Saturday, 11 April 2009

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami

Read: July 2007

With The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Murakami created a new genre; though no-one but he has been talented enough to follow it since. ‘Mundane Surrealism’ one might call it. Somehow Murakami manages to unite the bland minutia of everyday life with a fantastical and otherworldly adventure the like of which you will probably never encounter again.

Toru Okada has quit his job, just decides one day that he doesn’t want to work for a while. Then their cat goes missing causing his wife to fret that these are bad omens. Sure enough she disappears a few weeks later, simply vanishes one morning on the way to work. So Toru begins to search for them. But before long he starts receiving strange phone calls and is drawn into an otherworldly mystery from which he may never be able to escape.

This is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, a series of interweaving stories narrated by an ensemble of disparate characters which only come together thanks to the sheer mind-boggling imagination of Haruki Murakami. His understanding of the characters he gives life to is almost endless, the deft shifts in plot conceived in inspiration. There are few books anywhere in the world which inspire this sort of jaw splitting amazement. It is magnificently detailed, there are enough ideas and characters here for a lifetime of writing. And indeed, in some ways it seems that every book Murakami has written since is an extension of one of the subplots hidden somewhere within these 607 pages: we have the endlessly bizarre hotel of A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance, the subconscious labyrinthine connection between computers, underground passages and the psyche of Hard Boiled Wonderland, and the wartime escapades of Kafka on the Shore.

This should not be a surprise and nor is it a criticism. All of Murakami’s writing works together, almost as though it is all part of the same wild and crazy delirious daydream. If you love his other work you will love this, it is more Murakami than anything else he has written. He has really let his mind run away with itself and the result is a resplendent journey through eighteen months in the life of Toru Okada, self confessed nobody, as he tries to rebuild the vague and blameless life he has lost. With a vast array of supporting characters who wander in and out of the plot at different times he embarks on a bizarre quest to unravel the mysteries surrounding him: his wife’s strange family, Japan’s military history, and a local house known only as ‘The Hanging House.’ It is a long and winding journey in which plot strands are ended and forgotten without any warning and the ending is typically obscure. At some times, particularly in the middle, the plot can become bogged down in seemingly irrelevant subplots and the mundane recantation of daily events. Indeed this is a far more challenging book than anything else Murakami has written, it requires patience of almost gargantuan levels equivalent to those needed to enjoy Doctor Zhirvago, but in the end is equally rewarding.

You will come away from it with a sense of dreamlike confusion, of vast arrays of average people innocently wandering through the world in search of someone they will never be, some sense of peace and stability which it seems is beyond the human species to attain.

If you have never read anything by Murakami then do not start here, there are better introductions to his work, notably Norwegian Wood, Kafka on the Shore or Sputnik Sweetheart. Murakami is a true individual and your reading is not complete until you have sampled his work. But if you have already read something by this contemporary Japanese master then take a week off work, unplug the phone and do not stop reading until you are finished. And when you are the world will seem a slightly stranger place altogether.

7 out of 10

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