I’m going to celebrate my blog’s 7th anniversary by writing my 329th post! Ok, I realize that number is nothing special but what the heck, right?
Anyway, I didn’t realize that the last book I talked about on here was The House of the Spirits. It seems like forever since I finished that book, but I guess it was the last book I read before this one I’m about to talk about, which is Haruki Murakami‘s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (TWUBC). TWUBC is pretty long, 603 pages, and it took me nearly 2 months to finish it, which was longer than I had expected, but I will get to that later.
Published in 1994–1995, the original Japanese version of the novel was released in three parts: Book of the Thieving Magpie, Book of the Prophesying Bird, and Book of the Bird-Catcher Man. The English translated version puts all three volumes together into one thick book (though I don’t know if three separate versions were released individually like 1Q84), which was published in 1997.
Murakami readers will notice that TWUBC has a lot of similarities with his novel 1Q84. 1Q84 was published later, in 2011, but since I read it first, I couldn’t help but compare the two. However, really, it is 1Q84 that “copied” (if I can use that term) TWUBC. Both novels were released in three parts in Japanese, set in 1984, and even divided up into 3-month increments for some parts of the novel. Both have strange, complex storylines that include a lot of side stories, and both even have one recurring character. I recognized him in TWUBC as a character I had come across in 1Q84, but again, he was really created originally in TWUBC who shows up again in 1Q84. Both novels also have an adult male as the protagonist, a young girl as a secondary character, and a mysterious, powerful, leader-type male as the main antagonist.
Basically, if anything basic can be said about it, TWUBC is about a married, young man named Toru Okada, who, though very normal (a very average Joe sort of guy), experiences lot of strange things, including meeting some very strange people. Shortly after quitting his job as a law office goffer, a series of unfortunate events happen in his life, including his cat and wife suddenly disappearing for some mysterious reason. Though he’s dead set on getting both back, he doesn’t do much throughout the novel aside from going to an abandoned house via a blocked alley at the back of his house, chatting with a delinquent teenager next door, sitting at the bottom of a well, ironing his clothes, having illicit dream relations with strange psychic women, and generally just sitting around and chilling out. Later in the novel, he meets an enigmatic uber-rich, uber-fashionable mother and son who are named after condiments (no, not Salt and Pepper). The son doesn’t speak, for some reason, and the mother sort of prostitutes him (in a way) to rich old ladies. The novel also includes a little bit about Japanese history, specifically, the country’s role in WWII and conflict with neighboring country, China. That’s about it, in a nutshell, add to that a lot of very long, sometimes violent and gory, and strange stories told to him by all the strange people he meets, which, to be honest, are the only interesting parts of this novel.
Other than being mildly interesting at times, I don’t think I really understood what was going on in this novel. It has a lot of very mysterious elements – so mysterious that maybe no amount of pondering on the readers’ part can solve. A lot of things didn’t add up in the story, a lot of the characters introduced served no purpose (some of them were even completely forgotten after a while), and the weirdness of it all just didn’t work for me. Unlike 1Q84, in which weird things happened for a reason, the weird things in TWUBC did nothing for the story. Moreover, the strangeness of TWUBC‘s plot and character was just strange for the sake of being strange.
I normally enjoy Murakami’s novels, and I like the strange elements he adds to seemingly mundane stories. I find the description of his characters performing household chores, ironing, cooking, grocery shopping, or doing nothing whatsoever, relaxing and soothing. However, I didn’t feel that way about this novel. Instead of feeling relaxed, I felt that I couldn’t read TWUBC for long periods of time, lest my brain turn to mush. After an hour or so of reading, I just had to put the book down because all the strangeness was making me dizzy. It is a weird feeling, especially because I think that TWUBC is actually less strange than 1Q84. Still, that’s the real reason it took me almost 2 month to finish the novel, and now that I’m done, I feel like I can cross it off my bucket list (though it was never on any bucket list of mine).
Of course, just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean it’s a bad novel or that you wouldn’t like it. Give it a try! If you like Murakami’s style, magical realism, weird stories and equally weird characters, this just might be the novel for you!
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Nejimakitori Kuronikuru) (1994-1995; Eng. 1997) – Haruki Murakami
Vintage International; 603 pages (paperback)
Personal rating: 2.5/5