I’ve never read Haruki Murakami before I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. When I did, I fell in love. So if you haven’t read any of his books either, you’ll want to — and just start with Wind-Up Bird, okay? — because:
You’ve never read anything like it
Murakami is weird. While I was reading Wind-Up Bird, I had no idea where the story was going to go next or what new character I was going to meet. He kind of pulls things — weird things — from all over the place, and it’s very surreal. Yet at the same time, it feels totally ordinary.
Here’s what I mean: Wind-Up Bird is about a guy — a rather boring, passive, pushover guy named Toru Okada — whose cat disappears, followed by his wife. That’s pretty normal in a way, but then totally crazy stuff happens to him. His next-door neighbor is a girl who likes to talk about death and is slightly perverted and fakes having a limp and judges bald guys on a rating scale for the wig company she works for part-time. A series of women start consulting with him about his lost cat and have dream sex with him. His brother-in-law is a psychopath with the clout of Oprah Winfrey. And to get his bearings on life, he sits for days in the bottom of a well.
Yet underlying these events is a gravity: a man trying to make sense of his life. Through this is a connectedness that spans time and space — between people in history and the present, and between realities and dreams. The story is hard to recap concisely, yet there is a cohesiveness to it. It’s hard to tell where the line between fantasy and reality ever blurred in the first place.
It’s a fast read
But it’s not a short book. You’ve got 600 or so pages to read, and it’ll blow right by you. Because it’s so random and absorbing, you won’t want to stop because where the fuck is it going next? Who knows!
It’s kind of beautiful
“I was dying. Like all the other people who live in this world.”
Wind-Up Bird is surreal. That makes sense, given how strange it can be. But even with all the sex talk and the perviness and sometimes the violence, the way the words add up on the page can be quite beautiful and wise. The way the characters’ conversations get at the truth of human nature is affecting.
That night, in our darkened bedroom, I lay beside Kumiko, staring at the ceiling and asking myself just how much I really knew about this woman. … In the dark, I thought about blue tissues and patterned toilet paper and beef and green peppers. I had lived with her all this time, unaware how much she hated these things. In themselves they were trivial. Stupid. …
But this was different. It was bothering me in a strange new way, digging at me like a little fish bone caught in the throat. Maybe — just maybe — it was more crucial than it had seemed. … I might be standing in the entrance of something big, and inside lay a world that belonged to Kumiko alone, a vast world that I had never known. I saw it as a big, dark room. I was standing there holding a cigarette lighter, its tiny flame showing me only the smallest part of the room.
Would I ever see the rest? … What was the point of my life at all if I was spending it in bed with an unknown companion?
Murakami pays the kind of attention to details and words the way a patient man does his surroundings — and both Murakami and the main character are painstakingly patient men. (OK, well at least I imagine Murakami’s that kind of guy.)
The descriptions can also be pretty funny
Sometimes I’m not sure if certain word choices just got lost in translation or if Murakami meant them to be that way. Like this sentence: “Thanks to the phone call, the spaghetti was a little softer than al dente, but it had not been dealt a mortal blow.”
I find some of the conversations totally ridiculous, too. There’s a woman who nicknames herself Nutmeg, for instance, and the conversations between the main character and his teenage neighbor are inappropriate yet oddly endearing. She’s way too open, he’s way too understanding, and somehow they conduct a perfectly civil conversation about how easy it would be for her to kill him — depending on her mood.
The chapter titles are like poetry
The Well and Stars
How the Ladder Disappeared
The Signal Turns Red
The Long Arm Reaches Out
How the pieces fit together to tell a story is a little like how the characters come and go in each other’s lives: Affecting seemingly little, yet making a ripple that touches everything, and in turn everything else.
Is there a message to Wind-Up Bird Chronicle? I’m not sure, but it might have something to do with how little control we have over the reckless current of our lives, and how hard it is to change its direction. It might have something to do with your answer to this:
“… I feel as if my every move is being controlled by some kind of incredibly long arm that’s reaching out from somewhere far away, and that my life has been nothing more than a convenient passageway for all these things moving through it.”
… “Haven’t you ever felt that way?”