Book Review: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami
Posted on August 21st, 2012
I can understand readers having extreme love/hate reactions to Murakami, generally, and to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, particularly. As in his other works, the most recent of which is 1Q84, opening the covers of Wind-Up Bird is like strapping yourself into a carnival ride through someone else’s dream world; unless you are very keenly interested in the mind of that dreamer, you will be in turns bored or repelled by the experience. I am keenly interested in Murakami, and I find myself willing to read pretty much anything he writes; but it is a love that surpasses my own understanding at times.
Like many other readers, I find Murakami’s aesthetic sensibilities and his evocative symbolism – both of which can veer wildly from the banal and tedious to the overwrought, oversexualised, or even ridiculous – tend to stay with me long after I’ve closed one of his books (even the banal and tedious ones). I read him with the same sense of fascination that I read the works of Jung (even though Jung’s work is nonfiction) because I think that Murakami is grappling with the same types of existential questions, and that he seeks his answers by exploring the same types of places: the labyrinths of our own minds; the subtle and delicate ties that bind us to other sentient beings; the pragmatic and sensual bonds between us and the inanimate objects that fill our lives; and the metaphorical (or actual, depending upon one’s beliefs) collective unconscious.
I must admit to getting completely sucked into Murakami’s worlds; so much so, that I sometimes forget to check-in with basic physical reality. I had read three Murakami books before it occurred to me that one cannot see the stars in daylight from the bottom of a well – a claim his characters make in at least two of his novels, including this one. Nevertheless, the idea works beautifully as a metaphor. As with his other books, his symbols and recurrent motifs have a resounding power. I am haunted by that deep, dry well; that wind-up bird that speaks one’s doom; that labyrinthine hotel with its prostitutes of the mind, its waiter who whistles Rossini, and its endless supply of fresh cut flowers, fresh buckets of ice, and tumblers of Cutty Sark; that teenage girl with the wooden leg who visits the duck people in winter; and, unfortunately, even that hideous Boris the Man-skinner.
It is probably fair to say, as with his other books, that some of the characters in Wind-Up Bird are rendered in a way that makes them seem too lurid, or alternatively too vague, to sustain our disbelief; and that some bits of the plot feel under-done, while other bits feel too contrived. Still, I find that they satisfy me in some ineffable way, and that I am happy enough to stay in the dream, trusting that Murakami is taking me somewhere vivid and compelling and completely fresh. Then I find that I can’t quite wake up for a while after it’s ended.