Haruki Murakami and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Translated by Jay Rubin)

As you may well be aware, not a lot of us are working right now and those of us who do not have the option are finding our one ways of getting by. We’ll get through this and we can’t let this bring us down. I thought therefore I would do a write up with respect to people and characters who are also not working. To see what it is how they are thinking and how they are written.

This is probably not the best way to start such a post but here goes. I both love and hate Haruki Murakami’s work at the same time. I never like the main protagonists, I found Toru in Norwegian Wood unsympathetic, Kafka in Kafka on the Shore to be somewhat irritating. I thought he was an unlikeable Oedipus with an imaginary friend. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and End of the World had a narrator who was a bit of yuppie who also I did not really warm to.

Murakami novels to me at least always had a bit of suburban pretentiousness to them. Murakami drops in that characters listen to classical music, Beethoven and the like. He also makes his characters think about philosophers like Hegel but it is done in such a way that instead of having some meaning to the story it is as if Murakami is saying ‘ooh look at me and the laa di daa things I know’. Also having the lyrics of Danny Boy appear at the end of Hard-Boiled made me cringe for some reason. Don’t even get me started on the necessary violence, Johnny Walker’s prolonged torturing of cats and description of humans being skinned. Murakami cannot write a sex scene without embarrassing himself, just have a read of IQ84..

Having said that and despite the long list of things I hate about Murakami every book of his I have read, I have read cover to cover. I have thought about and contemplated the stories and the plots and the worlds Murakami builds. My favourite of the ones I have read (I haven’t read them all) is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Wind-Up follows the story of Toru a man who has just recently left his job and had become a bit of a house husband and from first impressions not all bodes well for him, his wife who although he loves appears distant, his cat is missing. This start a series of events where he meets a number of fascinating characters and has a number of interesting experiences. Without going in too much detail we read about Toru’s missing cat and later his missing wife. Toru would come across a young girl called May who he would have deep conversations, the psychic Kano sisters who help try to find Toru’s cat and assist him throughout his current thinking. We meet Noboru who is the opposite of Toru, he is obsessed with his work, his brother in law and not really a nice man at least not to Toru. There are a number themes that appear in the book. How we control other people and influence them, how we handle our past. There’s the concept of power, lust and social alienation. Toru himself hides in a hole, contemplating his life and what he has gone through in the story. If there is anything personally for me that I discovered about Toru is that at his core he is a good man. Good people attract to him, bad people even if previously good go further away.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is about Toru realising the world around him and what people are and maybe for the first time meets people who are different to him who exist quite literally in his own back yard (where he would discover the wind-up bird).

This is a book about the self, relationship with others realising our own worth. For me this is one of the more tolerable Haruki Murakami novels and if you have never read anything of his before I would highly recommend this one. The themes are interesting and presented well. The characters are fascinating and make up for the fact that when you really think about it, not a lot is going on in terms of adventure.

Note on the English translation, as far as I am aware, the translator Jay Rubin does not include all of the original Japanese original. For better or for worse I do not know but despite that there is still something here to hold on to. That felt personal and that made me contemplate things in my own life.

[Vintage Books, Kindle edition]