Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles - Haruki Murakami

Last month I was introduced to Haruki Murakami when I read the fantastic book, "Kafka on the Shore."  I was so hyped on that book, that immediately after finishing it I went to Barnes and Noble and picked up this novel, excitedly anticipating another mind-blowing adventure.  Unfortunately, after finishing "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles," I feel a lot less satisfied than when I first experienced Murakami's work.  If you ever saw "The Matrix: Reloaded," then you might know what I mean.  The original Matrix was amazing, and while the second had a lot of the same aspects that made the first great, the initial awe wasn't there.  In the same way, I felt that "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles," had a lot of the same great aspects as "Kafka," but when you feature them in a less inspired story, similar tricks just don't have the same impact.

The story takes place in Japan, and follows the life of a young man named Toru Okada.  Mr. Okada is currently unemployed, and lives with his wife Kumiko and their cat.  Toru has recently quit his office job, and is in the process of doing some soul searching to discover what his real calling in life is.  While he goes through this process, his wife continues to work and support their small family.  One day Toru and Kumiko discover that their cat has gone missing.  The cat has extreme sentimental value to Kumiko, and she asks Toru to find it by any means possible.  Thus starts the adventures of Toru Okada, as he sets out to solve the mystery of the missing cat.  He soons gets mixed up with several very interesting characters, including an old war veteran, a psychic prostitute, and a "spiritual healer" and her son.  What starts as a simple everyday task, soon turns into a crazy search that has much more to do with Toru, and less with his cat.

After reading this book, I really can't help but wish that I had read it before I read "Kafka on the Shore."  I think that if I had done that, I would have appreciated this book a lot more.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, and I left with the feeling that the sequel just didn't hold up to the original.  Of course, the two books are not linked in any way, but I think the analogy still works.

One thing I really enjoy about Murakami is he is really great at leaving a lot of his stories open to interpretation.  Right as you think he is going to explain everything, you turn the page and realize that the book is done.  It makes you develop your own ways to explain the unexplainable, imagining all sorts of possible tie-ups.  While I enjoyed that aspect of his writing in "Kafka," here I found it less appealing.  One reason for that is because in "Kafka" I think that the loose ends were much more open ended, freely giving way to the reader's imagination.  The places that my mind went were fun, and played easily off of the loose ends that Murakami left.  In "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles," the loose ends were less easy to tie imagination to.  They were simply beyond the scope of my imagination, and instead made little to no sense in many cases.  A few were well thought out, but others just left me with the feeling that Murakami was just being vague for no good reason. 

Looking back over these last few paragraphs, I really feel like I am bashing this book too much.  While I was reading it, I actually enjoyed the story, and didn't have to fight to get through it.  At the same time, I just didn't feel like it met my expectations.  If you are interested in reading Murakami, I would have to recommend "Kafka on the Shore" much more highly.  However, if you think you might read a couple of his books, you may want to start with this one.  It's a lot easier to appreciate a good novel when you haven't read an authors greater works right before.

1 comment:

  1. I've had that happen to me a few times. As much as I wanted to love the story it just didn't measure up to my expectations. I appreciate that you're always honest about what you think about what you read, it's what makes reading your blog so interesting.