Can't find a thread to bump on this so starting a new one.
This was one of the most wonderful reading experiences I've ever had. The book is no classic but it's wonderfully written and profoundly engaging. I honestly couldn't put it down.
The story is fairly straight-forward and involves a man named Toru Watanabe reminiscing about his youth in the late 60s. After his best friend, Kizuki, commits suicide he becomes closer with Kizuki's girlfriend Naoko. They eventually have sex and Watanabe goes to university. Here he meets several characters, most notably Nagasawa and his girlfriend Hatsumi. Watanabe and Nagasawa begin going out drinking and meeting girls for sex. Watanabe then discovers that Naoko is in a sanitorium and struggling with her mental health. He writes to her, eventually visits, and they rekindle their romance. Naoko lives at the sanitorium with an older woman called Reiko (she tells a rather interesting tale about why she's also at the sanitorium which includes a story about teaching a 13-year-old girl to play the piano).
The Japanese really do have a way when it comes to writing erotica, don't they? That being said, it felt like there was a little too much sex being used as an alternative to other, more conventional expressions of affection. Maybe that's a Japanese thing. I don't know. Everyone seems to need emotional reassurance but only expresses it through sex. Then again, it was set in the late 60s so maybe that's why.
The casual use of sex aside, my only criticism would be the chapter where Murakami jumps ahead and tells us about the future of one of the characters. This felt out of place since the whole narrative takes place chronologically. Only at the very beginning of chapter one does he write from the perspective of being an older man in the late 1980s. Then we dive into the story when he's 18 and stay with that story. But suddenly, halfway through the book, he informs us of a character's fate and it felt a little jarring.
I'm reliably informed that this is Murakami's most conventional novel. I'm not sure if I'd like his other works as much but based on this, I will definitely seek out more of his work.
I honestly can't remember enjoying reading a book this much. Many people would assume that I might think the book is a masterpiece as a result of that (a mistake many contemporary readers make in my opinion). They think if the reading experience is good then that means the book must be also great. For me, it's more complicated than that. I tend to put books into 4 categories.
1) The reading experience is wonderful. The book resonates, stays with you, changes your worldview, overwhelms you.
2) The reading experience is wonderful. But the book quickly fades from memory, doesn't hold its grip.
3) The reading experience is awful. But the book still somehow resonates, stays with you, overwhelms you etc.
4) The reading experience is awful. The book doesn't resonate, has nothing meaningful to say.
Category 4 is thankfully the most rare, followed by 3, then 1. For me, most books (and certainly most contemporary novels) are in category 2, including this. People make the mistake of thinking that if they really enjoyed reading a book then that must mean it is great literature. But often it's merely competently written *cough* Normal People *cough* etc. This is why so many modern novels get hyped, win awards, then disappear completely.
I'd place this at the top end of category 2. Highly recommended.
When I nominated this novel as the BGO Group Read, I argued that Murakami wrote magical realist novels even though the term is usually applied to work of Latin-American origin. This was my fifth Murakami book, and I certainly considered some of the previous novels I'd read, particularly "Kafka on the Shore", met the criteria.
In the early stages, I had a horrible feeling that the novel I'd picked wasn't actually a magical realist one; it isn't a consistent feature of Murakami's work. However, the dream sequences, the mark on Toru's cheek, Nutmeg's apparent powers and the later encounters in Room 208 later on made me revise my opinion.
Do others agree?
I'll confess that I nominated this novel without having previously read it. However, Murakami is among my very favourite authors and, critically at least, this is often regarded as one of his very finest novels, so I had high hopes for it.
At over 600 pages, I think this is Murakami's longest book to date. This is a rambling novel, both in terms of the glacial pace at which events unfold and its digressions into the past. My guess is those past events are meant to provide echoes of those in the book's present, but with the ever mysterious Murakami I couldn't be certain.
Describing the plot is difficult; this novel is a riddle wrapped inside an enigma. Toru Okada is a typical Murakami narrator - unemployed, apathetic and swept along by the increasingly bizarre happenings around him. Even the goadings of teenage neighbour May Kasahara don't seem to get a rise out of him.
The novel opens with the disappearance of the Okadas' cat, named after Toru's politician brother-in-law Noboru Wataya, a man whom the normally laid back Toru hates with a passion. After initial searches prove fruitless Kumiko, Toru's wife, brings in a clairvoyant, Malta Kano, to help. Then, more seriously, Kumiko also vanishes. At the same time, Toru is receiving anonymous 'phone calls from a woman who claims to know him well.
Throw in the grisly stories about Malta Kano's one time prostitute sister Creta and, war veteran Lieutenant Mamiya's tales of his time on the Mongolia/Manchuria border in the 1930s Sino-Japanese war and subsequent imprisonment, Toru's increasingly explicit dreams and the strangle blue patch on his cheek that appears from nowhere, the silent Cinnamon Akahasa and his wealthy mother Nutmeg, the apparent possessor of spiritual powers and witness of a massacre of zoo animals during the same war and you have a novel full of tangled threads that sort of resolve themselves in a denouement in the mysterious Room 208.
Perhaps the novel's reputation rests on the fact that this is the most Murakami-esque of Murakami novels. The atmosphere of a Murakami story is not quite like those by any other writer I've come across - apparently simple prose describing hauntingly surreal worlds of mystery, unease and tension and full of philosophizing characters - and, of the five books of his I've read, this is the most extreme example I've come across so far.
I can't tell you even a week after finishing it if "The Wind Up Bird Chronicle" is a work of profound genius or self-indulgence. Possibly, it is both.
Murakami’s third novel continues the story of the Rat, a character that featured in the first and second novel. The Rat is once again not the main character, more a catalyst for the exploration of mystery the unnamed narrator is sent on. Apart from the Rat I don’t think anyone is named in the novel. Even the narrator’s girlfriend is just talked about as she etc.
As always Murakami heads down avenues of thought that on the surface seem commonplace but with just enough twist to make the tale seem surreal. I always come away from a Murakami book with more questions than answers and perhaps that’s another reason why I love them. They don’t explain everything. Life is mostly an unresolved wander to death and Murakami seems to reflect that in his writing.
This novel seems to be the beginning of his interest (obsession?) with religion and cults. Having read some of his later novels I can now see the germinating seeds of thought in this novel. The story flowed easily as good tales of travel and mystery do, possibly making this a good place to start if you want to explore the other horizons found in Murakami’s work. Also even though it is the third in the Rat trilogy you don’t need to have read the first two to follow this story.
From my blog...
This is strange indeed. I am not a Murakami aficionado, but I know that many are and I would be interested to know whether this is typical of Murakami.
Physically it is a lovely thing. Quite small, with an old fashioned library ticket pocket on the front. Inside is a curious tale of a boy on the way home from school who pops into a library to pick up a book. He is taken to a special reading room, run by an odd man who locks him there and says he will be released when he can memorise the contents of the books he wants. What follows is a strange, supernatural and rather suspenseful story rooted in whether escape from the maze of the library basement is possible.
The books is beautifully illustrated by Chip Kidd with odd drawings which create an amazing backdrop for the reader to overlay the narrative. It is very short, only 88 pages, but it utterly engrossing.