le 24 mars 2004
I really liked the book but it's so frustrating with all the loose ends. It's like a David Lynch movie, and I feel like I wasn't equipped with the proper skills to thoroughly interpet the symbolism and meaning of the book. Someone perfectly summed up all the dissatisfing points that I would like more clarification on:
"Despite the fact that I enjoyed reading this novel very much and think very highly of it, I do feel somewhat unsatisfied with a number of plot elements in the intertwining stories that I think were not properly explained.
1.) Regarding the nature of Noboru Wataya's dark power, which Kumiko and her sister were also tangled up with: It seems to me Noboru Wataya is a sort of black magician who has learned to harness this innate ability, and yet it is hinted at that the entire Wataya bloodline is somehow affected by this evil power. This evil entity is central to the plotline (It was in some way responsible for Kumiko's horrifying streak of extramarital [affairs] which in turn triggered her disappearance), yet the phenomenon surrounding it is kept extremely vague. This mysterious something was almost certainly behind Noboru Wataya's defilement of both Kumiko's sister and Creta Kano, but as for the purpose for these defilements we are kept in the dark. When Toru finally does battle with this evil entity, it still is kept extremely vague and we never get to see it. I found myself wishing Toru would ignore Kumiko's requests and turn the flashlight on it, just for curiosity's sake.
2.) Regarding the story of the young boy who I assume is Cinnamon who hears the wind up bird and then proceeds to witness two shady looking characters burying a certain something on his property. Judging from his descriptions of these two shady characters - one tall and one short - I can only guess that they are indeed Noboru Wataya and Ushikawa. In the dream sequence the boy experiences after watching the real life events, the buried object is a human heart, which leads me to question #3...
3.) Regarding Nutmeg's Husband and Cinnamon's Father, who died in a certain hotel room under very bizarre circumstances. Nutmeg confirms that the assailants removed several of his organs and smeared his blood on the walls, etc. Again, I can only guess that Noboru Wataya, Ushikawa, and the evil being are involved here too. But there is never an explanation as to the connection between Cinnamon's father having his heart removed in a type of ritual killing, and Cinnamon Witnessing two men burying something which in the dream state is revealed to be a live beating human heart, shortly afterwards resulting in the loss of Cinnamon's voice.
4.) Regarding the dark hotel. I find myself wishing this place was explained a bit more. Who is the No Face man, or the "hollow man" as he refers to himself, and why does he decide to ally himself with Toru? Who is the whistling waiter? What is the significance of room 208? The dark hotel is obviously the domain of the dark entity with which Noboru Wataya is aligned. I can speculate that this is some type of spiritual prison maintained for Kumiko by Noboru Wataya, but I find myself wishing that the reason for this place's existence were more clearly defined. "
Does anyone have insight into these points? I would really like to read someone's in depth analysis of this book because I'm curious and frusterated as hell!
le 20 janvier 2004
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was my first Murakami, and through the first half of the book I had every reason to be impressed and excited by its promise of a rewarding and thought-provoking read. Indeed, in the early going I was mesmerized by the multifarious cast of quirky characters and the somewhat kooky plot lines, and additionally, the unbalanced mood and the underlying tension kept me eagerly focused towards the explanations and resolutions which were surely coming. I was willing, if not thrilled to leave the main storyline time after time to read and absorb the lengthy historical chapters, secure in the knowledge that by book's end, the interconnectedness of it all would be made abundantly clear. However, the second half of this book left me far more disappointed than the first had gotten me interested. Let's get this out of the way first so there is no misunderstanding: Murakami is, without a doubt, a gifted and interesting storyteller with a unique voice and an engagingly oblique manner of limning his plot. But his technical skills and economical prose style notwithstanding, he is either the laziest or most arrogant author I've ever come across. After causing us to feel so strongly about the predicaments and machinations of so many characters, and making us wonder about the resolution of and connection between so many story lines, and schooling us in a good dose of Japanese, Manchurian and Mongolese history, and escorting us through a variety of worlds, netherworlds, cyberworlds, dimensions, dreamscapes and cityscapes, we are left dangling in mid-air. Absolutely nothing we are interested in having revealed to us is ever explained or made clear. And 600 pages of unresolved set-ups is no small matter. We have been on the receiving end of long and ponderous expositions, all of which are interwoven with mysterious shadow-plays and subtle implications: What are Noboru Wataya's strange powers? how do Malta and Creta Kano ultimately tie into everything? -and please tell us why we had to hear about that red hat so many times if it didn't end up being important to the story... and what the heck is really happening at the strange sessions where Nutmeg and Cinnamon offer rich women the opportunity of fondling Toru's skull in a dark dressmaking room? where on earth had Mackerel been? was Kumiko the mysterious woman in the netherworld hotel room? and why did May Kasahara run away from home only to start writing Toru an endless stream of letters in which she refers to him as "Mister Wind-Up Bird" every other sentence (o.k., so it's cute...), all this in-between the times she is making men's wigs in the countryside 15 hours a day? and what is the significance of the strange guy with the bat? and why did Toru Okada share the trait of a throbbing blue mark on the face with Nutmeg's zookeeper father? So after 600 pages we don't get any answers to anything, and meanwhile most of the characters whose unresolved predicaments we have been wondering about for quite some time now, have either disappeared from the plot entirely, or been transmogrified into less-palatable versions of themselves. Some simply flit back into the story for a brief moment before the end mercifully comes. We are, shockingly, left without any of the answers we have been so eagerly reading towards, left to fend for ourselves with our own imaginations, abandoned to perform what was essentially the author's main responsibility to his readership. If we are not owed either the answers he has made us wonder about, or at least some reason for having asked the questions in the first place, what are we doing with our noses buried 600 pages deep in this book? In my opinion, the end result of this type of coy, shadowboxing style of writing is pointless storytelling. These are not the type of deeply- conceived characters with fascinating complexities, where it would be interesting and rewarding to ponder the various sorts of ways that life and fate might have affected them had the story resolved this way or that. It is the very situations and the bizarre potentialities of this story which imbue it with interest, and I felt bamboozled after caring enough to wonder what it all meant, only to have Murikami stop the engines in total limbo. Frankly, in this vein, I think Murakami missed his golden opportunity towards the end of the book when Toru Okada is morphed back from the strange hotel room to the bottom of the flooding well. As the well fills with water and our hero is paralyzed from the abject exhaustion of just having traveled through time, space and hotel room walls, we are not sure what will become of him, but we fear the worst. Now comes the brilliantly-named chapter, "The Story Of The Duck People"!!! Holy cow, here was Murakami's chance! As long as our author is leaving it all up to us anyway, I think he should have drowned Toru in the well and made this Duck People chapter describe a bizarre other-dimensional world, which is some kind of weird afterlife place, where everyone from the book ends up as half-duck folk, and where because of this strange new "reality" the whole plot has a chance to be explained and resolved. I'm being serious! Before I knew what this chapter actually was - alas, just a final May Kasahara letter in which she describes the antics of some real-life ducks who live by her wig factory *yawn*, I had some STRONG chills running up and down my spine. The image evoked by those weird words, "The Story Of The Duck People," made me think that Murakami had fooled us until the very last moment, blindsiding us with the unexpected coup de grace, succeeding richly at the precise moment when all seemed hopelessly unresolvable. And such is the fine line which writers walk... In "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle," in my opinion Murakami fell off the high wire, and didn't build himself a net sufficient to save himself and his book from a failed try at greatness.
le 7 avril 2004
I should start by saying that I usually like bizarre fiction. Well, "Wind-up Bird Chronicle" is certainly that. A "regular Joe" for the main character, surrounded by the weird and inexplicable - psychic sisters named after islands, a healer and her mute son (named after spices), a well with no water in it, and an alternative reality set in a hotel.
The beginning of the book sucks you in, written in a crisp, modern style, with no high-brow literary waffle. Very quickly you realise that something strange is happening to our "normal" protagonist, Toru Okada. The events don't seem to be connected in any way, but they are portrayed as clues, and you are batting for Toru to figure them out. The random, bizarre happenings make you excited, curious, desperate to read on.
So then you read on. And on. More strange characters and events get introduced. There are large forays into the Japanese occupation of Manchuria before WWII and gruesome stories of violence there. But still, you think (or rather hope, by now) that this will all be explained. Somehow. But alas, it isn't. And you begin to suspect that many of the things you thought were significant "clues", were actually just there to increase the "weird and quirky" factor.
At the end, several important people and occurances had just disappeared out of the novel (Malto and Creta Kano?), or were left hanging without explanation or resolve. I don't want the meaning of everything spelled out to me, I'm happy to use my imagination to figure some things out. But this book didn't even leave me with a skeleton on which to build my thoughts at the end. Only one of the themes (good vs. evil - how original) was resolved to my satisfaction.
Read Murakami's book for an introduction to his style, read it if the words "Japanese" and "bizarre" in combination sound good. But don't expect to finish it feeling contented.
Toru Okada is in the midst of much more than a mid-life crisis. He quit his legal job and has yet to search for a new position. His wife, Kumiko, has been acting out of character and is fretting about their lost cat. To top it all off, an unknown woman has been calling him on the phone and is making very suggestive conversation.
I listened to the Naxos Audiobook version read by Rupert Degas. Great job on the various characters. I had no trouble telling when characters changed. At 26 hours, this is a very long story, though it seemed as though it was several novellas all linked together by common elements of flow and water.
Mr. Murakami has put together a most unlikely group of characters. Right from the first, I didn't like Kumiko's brother , Noboru Wataya. He didn't seem to have any human qualities. More a logic machine than something alive. May Kasahara was a gem. She was that precocious teen that had a question about everything and wanted a true answer. I looked forward to her appearance in the story. I think that my favourite character was Lieutenant Mamiya. When he told a story, I wanted to pull over to the side of the road and just listen. I didn't want to have to pay attention to the traffic; I just wanted to listen. His stories were fascinating and quite likely could have been true.
It was interesting that while Toru was trying to hang onto his marriage, all sorts of other females kept intruding into his life. May, the unusual physic sisters Malta and Creta and the mysterious Nutmeg. With no attempt at enticing them, all these women seemed to flock toward him. Why?
All in all, I found this an unusual book. It kept coming back to 'flow'. That un-resolved issues in Toru's life had interrupted his 'flow' and that until he corrected them, his life would not be settled. I would have had a hard time reading a paper version of this book. It wasn't something I could listen to in huge chunks of time, but rather for shorter periods, with lots of time to digest what had happened in the various chapters. If you have tried to read the book and found it hard to stick with, give the audio book a try in smaller bits. It worked for me.
le 15 janvier 2004
I finished this book last night and my feelings are mixed. On one hand, I absolutely loved the first three hundred pages or so, but the last three hundred...ugh, they just got too weird.
The story starts off simply enough. A young couple have lost their cat, probably in the nearby alley. Things start to get a bit weirder when the man (who is unemployed), starts receiving explicit phone calls and encounters a number of strange people with odd stories. This part was all good. I liked how it was getting steadily weirder, but still remaining anchored in reality. At this stage, nothing was implausible, just very weird.
Then. The author must have gotten too caught up in making things weird, because it started to get really stupid. The main character followed a random guy around for a while and then beat him up. For no real reason (the reason was there, but it was weak, I think), a woman started spending lots of money on him, his wife disappeared under increasingly stupid circumstances, he developed...ugh...psychic powers. Etc and etc. Not too impressed with all that.
But. I was waiting for it to be all neatly wrapped up. And it wasn't. One of the main characters at the start, May, she was relegated to little more than a letter writer at the end. I didn't see the point at all of the old man telling his long (but interesting) stories about Russia/Japan hostilities in WW2.
And the *BIG SPOILERS* big bad guy at the end being his wife's brother? Sure, that was obvious, but it was never really explained just how he managed to get all these psychic powers, or what he intended to do with them, or why he was such a threat. And the psychic dream world place was never explained, not at all.*/BIG SPOILERS*
So in the end I was disappointed. But I loved the start. I can handle weird, but not stupid weird.
le 17 décembre 2003
I've read three Murakami novels--or perhaps I should say, I've read the Murakami novel three times. Because I can't help but note that all his books appear to be literally the same thing. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and Dance Dance Dance all have exactly the same narrative voice and the same choppy, ain't-it-hip plot structures. Murakami seems to have hit on a formula that works and he's sticking to it. Which, I suppose, is fair enough as far as it goes--didn't Celine do about the same thing?--but in Murakami's case, the limitations of his style are blaringly obvious, and one can't help seeing him as a one trick pony.
Still, let's cut to the chase: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was an extremely easy read, and I never became bored with it. Murakami's jumpy, short-attention-span style doesn't leave room for boredom, and unlike in the works of, say, Pynchon, neither the linguistic style nor the underlying ideas are ever complex or deep enough to elicit confusion, or indeed to make the reader stop and think about them at all. I plowed through the book in a week, primarily in crowded public transportation, in spite of the fact that I had a very heavy workload at the time. So...yeah. Fun.
Fun, yes, but, incredibly shallow and limited. I'll first take the time to acknowledge the best part of the book; namely, the two 'zoo massacre' chapters. Those have a power and weight that is quite disproportionate to the rest of the novel, and they would work well on their own as short stories--as indeed they did, in the New Yorker.
But other than that, we have problems. I think what it boils down to is that, for all that Murakami is frequently described in breathless laudatory cover copy as 'daring,' over-the-top,' and whatnot, the truth is, he's a very cautious, conservative writer. That might sound counterintuitive at first, but it really makes perfect sense. All of his kee-razy plot twists would indeed be over-the-top...except for the fact that they're *all he ever does.* There's nothing under the top to contrast them with, so that--ironically--their unpredictability and alleged wackiness quickly become totally predictable. And the MTV-style hyperkinetic refusal to stay on any one topic for any length of time is fine to an extent, but Murakami far too often uses it as a crutch to avoid having to deal with any substantial issues in a meaningful way. His modus operandi is to shake you up so as to leave your head in a whirl, then move on--and you're so impressed by the sheer jiggery-poking chutzpah that it takes you a little while to realize that he hasn't really left you with much of anything. Everything is to be danced around, nothing faced head-on. Kawabata could do that, because he was an incredibly subtle writer who was able to write worlds of meaning into impossibly minute nuances. Murakami cannot. It must be allowed that he is a good writer, purely in terms of, well, writing. He creates very vivid images. Which just makes the fact that his books are all sound and fury all the more frustrating.
[Sidebar: I would like to take this opportunity to mock the person who penned the laudatory quote from Publisher's Weekly (this might be from another version of the Murakami novel, but eh, what's the difference?) which claims that "this is the sort of page-turner Mishima might have written." Listen, Mr. or Ms. Publisher's Weekly Hack, I know that all you wanted was to compare Murakami to another Japanese writer and, since the only one you could think of was Mishima, he got the role by default, but that's STILL an amazingly stupid statement. Even if we pretend that Murakami is anywhere near being in the same league, as a writer, as Mishima, their respective oeuvres are absolutely NOTHING ALIKE. Geez. Perhaps next time you can compare Kingsley Amis to Jane Austen--after all, they were both English! End sidebar.]
However, it must be allowed, sometimes you need something light that won't tax your brain too much, and, be you in such a circumstance, I suppose you could do worse that The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I'm a little embarrassed for the people trying to claim that this is a Great Post-Modern Novel, but be that as it may, fast-food literature like this has its place; it's undeniably tasty, but it would be a bad idea to eat nothing but.
le 14 janvier 2003
In THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE (Neijimaki-dori kuronikuru), the famed Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami presents us with a most unusual series of events. His protagonist Toru Okada is a Tokyo paralegal who has recently quit his job and is mulling what to do next. His cat disappears, and then his wife as well, which brings Okada into contact with a bizarrely morbid teenage girl from down the street, a mystic and her former prostitute sister, and a veteran of World War II haunted by what he saw in the puppet state of Manchukuo and his subsequent imprisonment in a Siberian POW camp. Murakami slowly builds up to a showdown between Okada and his wife's brother Noburu Wataya, an antagonist rarely seen but whose threatening presence is felt throughout the novel. This conflict takes place mainly through a series of psychological journeys, something like but not quite the same as Arthur Schnitlzer's Freudian novel TRAUMNOVELLE.
While THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE is entertaining and reads smoothly in this translation by Jay Rubin, it does have a number of faults. The foremost is the novel's genre. The psychological journey has always been a difficult form to write convincingly, as everyone has a different view on workings of the mind and schools of psychology come into vogue and fall out of fashion regularly. As a result, the plot of this novel will seem unconvincing and unbelieving to most readers. The novel's second weakness is Murakami's sudden lack of interest in his protagonist around page 200. Although the entire novel is narrated by Toru Okada, after a while he stops being a fleshed-out character and begins just drily reporting facts.
A unfortunate aspect of this translation is that it is heavily abridged. The novel was originally published in three volumes, but in translating the novel into English, Jay Rubin abridged the novel into a single trade-paperback volume. As a result readers in English aren't really getting the same book that Murakami wrote, and who knows how many mysteries and unclear points of the novel would be resolved if only the entire novel were available.
In spite of several serious complaints, THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE does have many fine qualities. With Toru and his wife Kumiko, Murakami gives one of the most realistic portrayals of married life in contemporary fiction. His reflections, like those of the playwright Harold Pinter, on the ultimate unknowability of one's lifelong partner are fascinating. And while his protagonist is written imperfectly, characterisation is generally quite good in this novel. Murakami's antagonist Noburu Wataya is a marvelous creation. Despicable and menacing to an extreme, Wataya is nonetheless incredibly believable and even inspires fear in the reader. Finally, Murakami's dealing with the dark secrets of Japan's occupation of Manchuria shows another horrifying side of World War II.
While I'm not sure THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE will survive the test of time and be considered a piece of great literature, it is an entertaining and thought-provoking novel. Fans of contemporary fiction would do well to read it.
le 10 décembre 2001
Having read this book shortly after Murakami's "Dance, Dance, Dance," which I consider to be among the best books I've ever read, I found The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle to be a little disappointing. Murakami did a wonderful job again of creating memorable characters (May Kasahara in particular, but Creta Kano and the "Akasakas" were favorites of mine as well). He told incredible tales: the story of Lieutenant Mamiya probably could've been a novel in itself. Creta Kano's "defilement" was chilling, and her metamorphoses were equally stunning. The Akasakas' tale was interesting too.
But Murakami just couldn't tie it all together. Many times I found myself saying "what on earth was THAT all about" ... the story of Cinnamon as a boy, where he crawls into bed with himself, for example. Or Okada experiencing different "self"s and different "here"s. However, my main source of dissatisfaction was Toru Okada himself. In the midst of all of these dynamic and active characters, Okada just sits around waiting for phone calls, loiters around Shinjuku, and sits in his retrofitted well. Except for a few, noteworthy events which stand out- his battle with death his first trip into the well, his battle with the musician, and then his knife-bat fight in the mysterious hotel room- there is very little substance to Okada. Those three events were, for me, easily the highlights of the Okada Storyline. The image I had of May Kasahara standing at the top of the well asking Okada how it felt to die little by little sticks with me still. But the majority of the time, Okada just went around doing what other people told him to do. By the end, he wasn't even in charge of the clothes that he wore. He "searched" for his wife by sitting in a well designed for him in a house bought for him by the Akasakas. I felt absolutely no empathy towards Okada. In this surreal, harsh world that Murakami has created, Okada seems too pliable and soft for the protagonist's role. If people like Okada are supposed to defeat the Noboru Watayas of the world, we're all in deep trouble.
In the end, Okada is left where he started- waiting for his wife to return. Reading the book, that's essentially how I felt: I had just gone through an amazing, convoluted experience just to end up right back where I was when I started "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle."
le 1 juin 2001
HM is a genius in much the way SK is, but so is my illiterate great uncle--he spins a good story, but he hardly registers on any literary scale. I admit that I liked this book, but it is a guilty pleasure, like becoming extremily excited at two-dimensional females or drinking too much or eating a full pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk. And just like drinking, masturbating, and eating full-fat ice-cream an inner voice can often be heard saying, "stop, this is not what you should be doing now," or for those with a more religiously brimstonish inclination, "you are going to hell!" And just as I usually finish my solitary endeavors, I finished this book. A fun and guilty pleasure, but devoid of enlightenment, well, it has as much enlightenment as seeing the bottom of a bottle--do not underestimate this. Fine and good, but the real problems with this book are, like King, its bad writing. Two problems stand out: (and these are both mistakes that even literate high-schoolers fail to make) 1: pop-references that look like pop-references. If you can fit in an allusion to gilligan's Island, good for you. But make sure it does something besides show that you've heard of GI (I guess this stuff is cool in Japan). 2: say it once, not twice, and not three times, and not three or more times in italics.
Murakami ain't no Pynchon nor Mishima
But I think, and hope it's not true, that one can see, just as one can see American culture, especially through 'bad'-pop stuff, certain recurring elements common to Japanese culture. 1: Foriegners and racial groups, other than Japanese, smell bad. (this may be true, but think about this hypothetical sentence: "he was a large man with coal dark leathery skin, he smelled like a caged animal, of course, this must be an African...") 2: Japan still fails to face up to its actions in WWII. The Japanese soldiers appear as unwilling, compassionate, professionals forced into killing by the barbarism of those sneeky Chinese and those pink faced evil commie Russians. 3: An odd super-materialism that would make an American Yuppy blush. 4: a proclivity to blend sex with sado-masochism. 5: an (honest) appreciation for under-age females (most older American men may want to have sex with a 16 yr old, but they ain't gonna tell anyone about it)
le 12 septembre 1998
I bought this book with the hope of getting a little more insight into the Japanese mind after having read Yukio Mishima's "Patriotism." Mishima's story was astounding in its setting of the mood and mindset of a Japanese military man who had gotten involved in an action that had failed. It was terrifying in its descriptions of the sucide scene.
I have to say that the experience of reading Murakami's book was both rewarding and frustrating. The book is very engrossing (I kept turning the pages) as it keeps promising to reveal something of worth but then it fails to keep the promise. I got the feeling that Murakami has found a formula for writing books (sex, mysticism, ESP, unresolved personal relationships, etc) by means of which he can grab a lot of readers. For what he had to say, the book could have been half as long and I thought that the business of flowing through walls was pretty silly (I'm an engineer which may explain my problem with the book.) The ESP-like episodes were a little easier to take. I think that leaving it up to the reader to decide what the "alien" thing is inside people is a cop-out. It may be, however, that the telephone and internet sex generation will assume that the sex in this book fits right in to their notions of normality.
The author is gifted in his ability to describe the relationships between people. I wish he had stayed with the relationship between Toru Okada and his wife, Kumiko. In the end, he seemed to have made Kumiko into a half-dozen people which may have been his intent but it was unsatisfying to me.
I was also left wondering if Murakami's modern Japan is so unlike the Japan that Mishima wrote about. If the names were changed and the type of food eaten were not mentioned, one would think he was in America most of the time. Is this just his formula for widening the readership of his work or does it truly reflect modern Japan?
My final comment is that he does not really do much for the Japanese in terms of bringing them to understand the crimes committed against Asia - the atrocities he mentions are relatively minor and committed by both the Russians and the Japanese.