Toru Okada is an apparently happy man, drifting through life in a vague, blameless and somewhat apathetic manner. Then one morning his wife leaves for work and never returns.
Haruki Murakami is a master of subtly disturbing prose. Mundane events throb with menace, while the bizarre is accepted without comment. Meaning always seems to be just out of reach, for the reader as well as for the characters, yet one is drawn inexorably into a mystery that may have no solution. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is an extended meditation on themes that appear throughout Murakami's earlier work. The tropes of popular culture, movies, music, detective stories, combine to create a work that explores both the surface and the hidden depths of Japanese society at the end of the 20th century.
If it were possible to isolate one theme in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle that theme would be responsibility. The atrocities committed by the Japanese army in China keep rising to the surface like a repressed memory, and Toru Okada himself is compelled by events to take responsibility for his actions and struggle with his essentially passive nature. If Toru is supposed to be a Japanese Everyman, steeped as he is in Western popular culture and ignorant of the secret history of his own nation, this novel paints a bleak picture. Like the winding up of the titular bird, Murakami slowly twists the gossamer threads of his story into something of considerable weight. --Simon Leake, Amazon.com
Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is about an "I" who is quite similar to the other "I"'s of Murakami's novels: the narrator, Okada, describes himself as completely normal, feels that he is somewhat a failure in life, feels detached and alienated, is well cultured especially in literature and music, knows the names of the Karamazov brothers and uses swimming and ironing as an anti-stress therapy. Not feeling very happy with his life, he quits his job for a break and to think about his next move. At around the same time his cat disappears, he meets a bored neighbour in her mid-teens, and his wife starts arriving later and later everyday from work. Okada's life becomes mundane: looking for his cat, listening to music, reading history books, shopping, cooking and eating at odd hours, chatting with his neighbour, waiting for his wife, a phonecall, or a letter, etc. Strange characters start to make their appearance in his life, telling him their life stories and slowly dragging him into a world of mysticism and occult. Mysterious events begin to take more time from his everyday mundane life giving this novel a very dark and surreal atmosphere.
This novel is very well written (thanks to both the author and the translator). It is clever, funny and also melancholic. It is full of witty remarks. It is quite a big book, made up of 70-80 `bite size' chapters that are very easy to read, and also addictive -- "I just want to read one more little chapter, just one and then I'll stop reading and go to bed, I know I can stop whenever I want to, I just need to know what happens next otherwise I would never be able to sleep, it's only 5 o'clock in the morning, that gives me 3 full hours of sleep before waking up to go to work..."
Well, it seems that I can go on talking about this book for ever. This is a story of alienation and detachment, of the feeling that others have control over your life, that your options are very limited and that happiness is unattainable. Not all puzzles can be solved, and not everyone can be understood. Highly recommended.
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