Monday, February 18, 2008

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

It’s been a long time since I wrote any sort of book review/book report. I’m currently procrastinating between exercising and cleaning the house so how better to justify such delay than by writing and being productive in some fashion.

Plus, I finished the book this morning about 6:30am so it’s still fresh in my mind.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is an adventure in writing if not always in reading. It’s translated from Japanese so some of its oddities might be a function of that but it maintains an ethereal quality. The words float through their existence on the page. Many reviewers describe it as dreamlike and that’s not an unacceptable term, but it may not be the best description.

I liked this novel. It’s not a typical story, that’s for sure. The hero, if you can call him that, Toru Okada is at a crossroads in his life. He’s unemployed. His marriage is about to surprisingly fail. His cat is missing. When the story starts to unfold it gets murky among a cast of unusual, mysterious people and influences on Okada. I wanted to like Okada, but he’s not a hero in the classical sense. He allows far too much to happen to him, never exerting control or his own influence. So, I had a hard time finding sympathy for him or even any level of genuine interest. So, I have to say this part of the novel left me wanting.

But the weave of plots (or lack of plots), historical perspectives on war, mystery of dreams and the nature of existence are worth the read. This is where Murakami hits it. It’s a decent sized novel at over 600 pages and by the time you are 100 pages in you have no idea what is real and what is fantasy. And that appears to be the real point of the book: perspective, power, dreams, reality, pain, loss and shame. The topics that sit beneath the story are more compelling than the characters.

Part of this is that we get very little into the actual motivations of the characters. Their actions don’t always coincide with what we do know of them. It is probably my own predisposition for character driven stories that makes me want more here. But too many mysteries are left unexplained or even unexplored. That’s too bad, because I think there are interesting stories there. The few details that we do get of the strange cast of characters are fascinating bits but they are just too short and fleeting.

Regardless, I can recommend this novel. I think Murakami achieves what he wanted and, in the end, that’s the reason for him to write it. Some people will love it (and do love it) and others, like me, will appreciate a good portion of it but wish there were a few more answers rather than so many remaining questions.


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