The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

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 seemed like forever since I finished that, but I guess it was the last book I read prior to the one I’m going to talk about, which is Haruki Murakami‘s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.  The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is pretty long – 603 pages, and it took me almost 2 months to finish it, longer than I had expected, but I will get into that more 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 put all three volumes together into one thick book (though I don’t know if three seperate verions were released individually in English, like 1Q84), published in 1997.

Murakami readers will notice that The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (TWUBC) has a lot of similarities to his other novel, 1Q84.  1Q84 was published later, in 2011, but since I read it first, I couldn’t help but compre TWUBC  to it, though, in reality, it is 1Q84 that “copied” (if I can use that term) TWUBC.  Both novels were released in three parts in Japanese, though I know that there is an English version of 1Q84 released in 3 parts too – don’t know if TWUBC has one), both novels were 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 book 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, and showed 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 sorta guy – recently has a lot of strange things happen to him, 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 having his cat, and his wife, suddenly leave him, the reason for both being a complete mystery. 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 doesn’t speak, for some reason), named after condiments (no, not Salt and Pepper), who sort of prostitutes him (in a way) to rich old ladies.  Oh, it does talk a little bit about Japanese history, particularly about its role during 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 which were 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. I felt that unlike in 1Q84, wherein the weird things happened for a reason, and for the good of the plot, the weird things that happened in TWUBC did nothing for the story, and the strangeness of TWUBC‘s plot and characters were 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 weird feeling to have, since I think that TWUBC is actually less strange than 1Q84.  Still, that’s the real reason it took me almost 2 month to finish this, 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

 

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