This was my first experience of Murakami, so I had no preconceptions when I read the book. I finished it last night and I'm still rather baffled so apologies for the vagueness of this review, but as another reviewer said the story is so complex and confusing a summary would be practically impossible.
My first thoughts on starting reading it: this is a massive book; the writing style is so fluid, the descriptions so clear, you can really see and almost hear the scenes described; I'm really going to enjoy this. That Murakami is an immensely talented writer is obvious. But the story... It's so sprawling, the dual quest story, and complex that when I was reading I was thinking about the notes Murakami must have made before he started, (I don't know if he works like this, it's conjecture) the chapter summaries taking him closer to the conclusion. I admired his scope and planning as well as his writing skills. Well, having finished I still don't know if there is a true conclusion, and I'm not sure he did either.
Ambiguity is fine if there is a point there somewhere, if there's something to decipher that's murky and open to interpretation, but really, what is there here to interpret? There's a hollowness to this. Quests should be universal, applicable to everyman. The themes here are ostensibly love, betrayal and revenge but very much of the characters, and not universal, so it's hard to relate. It's a shame, because the narrative does drive along at a cracking pace. I really wanted it to be great. Maybe I didn't care too much about the characters (aside from Nakata). I guess that's the difficulty of writing about flawed characters - if you do it too well their flaws supercede any pity or love you might feel for them.
I really wanted to love this book, and I will never forget it. Parts really made me think and his style is superb. But it's not a good story and the ending was such a cop-out I feel cheated, hence the three stars. I want to read more by this great writer though. (I saw the 'chidlren' typo too - naughty proof-reader!)