This was my first time reading something by Haruki Murakami, I was looking for something by someone I didn’t know when looking through my friend’s book collection. I chose three books: “Last Exit To Brooklyn” by Hubert Selby Jr., “The Stranger” by Albert Camus (I read and loved both of those) and “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle”. Safe to say, I picked three books that are rich with material to challenge or develop your thoughts and perceptions on human nature and life in general.
Anyway, “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” is a novel by Haruki Murakami and is mostly told in first-person from the view of Toru Okada – a married man who has recently become unemployed out of choice, leaving his job at a law firm as a clerk. After the disappearance of his cat, Toru’s life begins to take a strange turn and is faced with a series of depressing, unusual or outright bizarre events. Without ruining the story, he goes through rough and challenging periods of time, with some good that seems to spur him inbetween. These changes in his life often revolve around the introduction of new people appearing in his life for all sorts of reasons: strangers he becomes affiliated with, mysterious clairvoyants, businessmen, politicians, shady handymen and more.
It’s the relationships that Toru builds that feels like the true focus of the book. Not the ‘beginning and end’, it’s the journey not the destination. This feels most apparent when Toru evaluates these people, his relationship with them, their lifestyle, thought processes and himself. Although he is very analytical and aware of how he ‘should be’ and how other people feel, he’s very apathetic in nature. He can almost seem incredibly depressed or emotionally detached, especially with all the negative things he goes through yet rarely seems to show any sorrow but instead continues his daily routines unhindered. It’s because of his sense of neutrality and level-headedness that we’re shown how the world is made up of extremely different people constructed by their experiences, brought by themselves or by ‘fate’ – something that’s heavily referenced by many of the characters, usually saying that they feel destined for their roles and changes rather than through choice.
That said, I can’t really say much about the story without ruining it, so I won’t, but the main thing I loved about “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle” is the writing style.
Murakami goes into almost painfully in-depth detail throughout this: Toru will describe even the smallest of tasks like his routine for cleaning his house, or events from years before like arguments he had with his wife over the colour of toilet rolls. This sounds ridiculous, but you get absorbed into it and you genuinely feel like you’re getting into the thoughts of a real person. The details feel so exact that they must be true, that they’re real. Sometimes it just feels like you’re actually just reading Murakami’s OCD autobiography, and then you mark your page and close the book. You realise you’ve just snapped out of an alternative universe or someone’s life. You begin to realise how you can read into your own life and experiences from Toru’s perspective, adopting his attitude. Few books ever manage to dissolve themselves into your own life so well; it’s almost scary.
Although, I wouldn’t say it becomes banal with the detail like Tolkien, it’s bearable although sometimes you wonder where exactly Toru is going with certain things (his obsession with a certain character’s “vinyl red hat” is still lost on me) and he never really goes anywhere with it, or explains why he cares so much about certain things. But then, this is a true depiction of life: not everything leads to something and sometimes situations happen out of nothing. Not everything has a result or a beginning. Although these examples that happen in the story do make you feel some frustration, this is the same kind of frustration that some characters’ express about Toru’s own fatalist behaviour – a sign that Murakami has ultimately invented a real person in fiction.
If you enjoy the sort of first-person, extremely analytical/philosophical (with a touch of dry humour) in the style of Albert Camus, Stephen King, Nick Hornby and – to lesser extents – Kurt Vonnegut and Charles Bukowski, then you’d probably dig this a lot. While it is a long novel, you can’t help but sympathise with Murakami’s characters, finding relatable traits in them, hoping with each turn of a page that there’ll be some sort of closure for them. It’s a book I found myself investing in a lot, hopefully you will too.