Haruki Murakami makes no damn sense sometimes. And to be perfectly honest, I really dig it. I picked up one of his older novels, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, last Friday, having already read a few of his newer novels and enjoyed them. As is pretty typical with Murakami, you can expect to run into an odd cast, here ranging from an endearing, death-obsessed sixteen year old girl to a self-proclaimed psychic prostitute. Yeah, it won’t get any more normal from there. But you’ll find plenty of charm and humanity in those seemingly off-putting characters to keep you invested.
Oh, and there may be some spoilers ahead. Nothing too serious, but it’s tough to talk about a book and not discuss the plot at all. You’ve been warned.
Anyways, beneath the deadpan delivery of strange there’s an incredibly engaging and personal story. The whole narrative revolves around the main character’s marriage as it disintegrates. Or it might just be about the search for the couple’s cat that has mysteriously disappeared. With Murakami it’s kind of the same thing. The main conflict of the novel seems then to be a pretty simple one of getting the girl back. Fairly straightforward at first glance, but Murakami isn’t one for such a mundane narrative arc. Every attempt to understand how the marriage fell apart or why she left only multiplies the riddles and soon the whole situation has stretched itself out across lifetimes and generations, reaching back to the oft-forgotten failed Japanese campaign against Russia in Manchuria during World War II. Murakami’s characters explore the nature of history, both personal and national, seeing in themselves how those histories, grandiose and miniscule, intertwine and warp one another, and through these explorations come to question ideas of memory, self, knowledge, and, of course, love.
The author doesn’t make understanding things easy for you though. Characters flow into and out of the story all constantly, and may or may not have any real impact or significance. There aren’t any clear cut paths to follow through this novel and that’s really the point. Murakami directly questions the human compulsion towards cause and effect as a means for understanding the world through his characters. One character in particular uses the metaphor of making instant rice pudding and just one time getting macaroni instead to question the process by which we construct cause and effect in our own minds separate from how the world itself works (a metaphor I like and so won’t go into too much here, you’ll have to read it yourself). The novel’s emphasis on dislogic and odd juxtaposition is then a continuation of these questions regarding human understanding, which subsequently factors into the narrator’s quest to understand his loss, find his wife, and attempt to bring her home.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a profoundly strange novel. That’s really all there is to it. You might enjoy it and you might hate it. It really could go either way. Personally I thoroughly enjoyed the winding, confusing expanse of narrative. Assuming you don’t mind a bit of the postmodern in your life, this is a book you will most likely enjoy. But if you’re not so sure, check out his other stuff. After Dark and 1Q84 are both newer, more accessible works that are every bit as good Wind-Up, if not so ambitious. Murakami’s got an idiosyncratic strangeness to him that’s disarmingly intriguing. Sure he makes no sense sometimes, but you’ll start getting the feeling that sense is highly overrated.