Monday, 1 July 2013

Summer Reading Challenge: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

I've tried to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible so it should be safe to read!

This is one of those books where it is extremely hard to give a plot summary. As an attempt, I can say this: a man's cat goes missing. He is looking for it. This sparks off a string of events that it becomes increasingly clear are connected somehow. Kind of. I know, you're probably thinking right now "sounds thrilling..." (sarcasm of course, don't think I can't tell dear reader!) This is an incredibly simplistic summary of course, and as it turns out the novel is actually full of many different stories that interweave with one another. However, I won't lie to you, when I started this book I wasn't sold on it. I remember thinking that I would get through it, but I probably wouldn't read any of his work again. How wrong I was! I think part of what put me off was Murakami's writing style. It is that sort of detailed, I'm going to tell you everything I'm doing, way of writing. Toru Okada (our protagonist for this tale!) is narrating how he cooks his lunch (al dente spaghetti don'tcha know...) then how a strange woman phones him, then the precise way he walks to this abandoned house etc etc. At the time I wasn't hating it or anything, it just all seemed a little irrelevant. Add to this the fact that when the novel begins, it doesn't seem to have a particularly interesting plot-line and I was feeling uncertain about it. Okada is unemployed, he has nothing really to do, so he's searching for the cat. Not the most thrilling premise. I can happily say that all of these impressions were banished as the book progressed.

One aspect of this novel that I loved is the way that it built. Gradually it introduces a host of characters that were really interesting. I liked the way that details about their lives were released gradually, it kept an air of mystery to them and really aroused my curiosity. Certain characters end up being linked to other ones in ways that make you feel proud when you realise it. There generally featured a lot of moments where these characters were imparting the story of their life to Okada which I found effective. By breaking up the perspective it allowed various threads of storyline to start developing, which were then able to be woven together at various points to create little moments of revelations. These connections between characters and their stories was one of the elements that I found most interesting. I could tell I was warming up to the book as I increasingly found myself trying to puzzle out certain characters and their stories. The further I got into the book, the more I found my mind wandering to it throughout the day. I don't particularly know anything about Japanese history, so the stories told by the characters was an interesting way to learn more about certain periods.

The world of this book is not bound by our laws of reality. I'm finding it very hard to come up with a fitting phrase to describe it. I suppose you could say there are mystic elements to it (or rather that it is an example of 'magical realism'). For example, there feature various characters with forms of psychic/unexplainable powers, and dreams that are not always just figments of the imagination but have meaning to them. It encourages you to question whether truth and fact are the same thing. It raises interesting questions about the difference and relationship between fact and truth. In this novel, the two are not mutually exclusive. Questions are raised about the truth of the stories that are told within the novel. Sometimes events have been recorded or narrated by characters who could not have been present at the time. It raises questions over whether you should just accept the stories at face value, or if you could be wary of believing them. I tended to lean towards the first option as the mystical elements of the novel made me accept that they would have this knowledge. The novel contains many different ways of presenting events. There is the standard main narrative, but splitting off are letters and memories and magazine articles. This puts you, the reader, in a position of having more knowledge of certain events than the characters do. I enjoyed this as it increased my attempts to try and piece together what was happening.

Having started at a position where I was not entirely enjoying this book, by the time I was nearing the end I was sat up in bed in the early hours of the morning devouring the last few pages. I definitely ended up feeling a sense of satisfaction when it finished, but there are a few elements that were left ambiguous or not explained as fully as I would like. It does get slightly confusing at times, trying to figure out what information you can trust and puzzling out certain elements. As a result I think I developed this frantic need to finish it and get the answers I wanted. It is after spending the day mulling it over that I am finding various questions being raised in my mind. There are various 'clues' that I wish had been explained a bit more. Certain characters that I liked, I wish had been expanded more. Some just seem to disappear from the narrative without a great explanation why.  

However, I would say that my experience of reading this book was ultimately positive. By the end I was relishing all of the details that were included as they helped me try to solve the mysteries. I would read more of Marakami's work in the future and am very glad that I had this on my challenge! I have tried to not include any spoilers in this review in order to encourage those who have not read it to give it a shot. If you have already read it do leave a comment, let me know what you liked/disliked about it! And if you haven't, do you think you will?

This will be my last post for a little while as I am off for all my festival fun on Wednesday, so I wish you all a lovely two weeks or so! That's also why this review is a bit shorter than the others, I am currently packing and organising everything. I'm going to take the next book with me for travelling (although I won't take it to France, just in case!) so will hopefully be able to crack on with some of that. The books for uni are all starting to arrive in the post which is very exciting. So what I am essentially saying is that trickles of activity should continue quite nicely! Farewell for now my lovelies!

1 comment:

  1. Good review without giving too much away. Enjoy your festival! :-)

    Greetings from London.