Haruki Murakami's The Wind-up Bird Chronicle was bought along with his two other books, Norwegian Wood and Elephant Vanishes last year, when, after hearing so many good things about him, I made a decision to hop onto his bandwagon as well, to witness for myself what Murakami's all about.
Flashforward. I was in a rather horrible mood earlier this year, and much of it was attributed to this book. A frustrating book to read, to the point where I wanted to just give up and read something else. (A rarity.) But because of my personal never-say-die, never-give-up attitude, I gritted my teeth and made my way through the book, all six hundred and nine pages of it, took a long gasp, wiped off the blood that were rolling down my cheeks from my eyes and shook my head in disgust, and decided to swear off Murakami books for a while. In the end, I lent Justin The Elephant Vanishes (check out his review here), while Norwegian Woods remains on my shelf, gathering dust.
My first impression after reading the summary on the back:
'Toru Okada's cat has disappeared and this has unsettled his wife, who is herself growing more distant every day. Then there are the increasingly explicit telephone calls he has started receiving. As this compelling story unfolds, the tidy suburban realities of Okada's vague and blameless life - spent cooking, reading, listening to jazz and opera and drinking beer at the kitchen table - are turned inside out, and he embarks on a bizarre journey, guided (however obscurely) by a succession of characters, each with a tale to tell.'
"Whoa, sounds pretty interesting, so, this is most probably about the increasingly distant relationship between two adult couples! And Toru's journey will be pretty interesting, I wonder what tales do those succession of characters have to tell? I wonder what's this whole deal about the cat? Maybe it's a symbol of... something! A reflection of contemporary Japanese culture!"
I'm pretty surprised to read the summary of the book again and realize how accurate it actually is. Yeah, it's about a guy looking for a cat (sometimes), and that his marriage is slowly crumbling. And that he did go for some journey of sorts and running into a succession of characters with stories to tell. But I was always made to believe that such premise can only work if the stories told by these characters have to be interesting enough to keep you enthralled even though they may more or less deviate from the main plot (the whole deal between him and his wife), after all, I myself did attempt to write such a story during last year's Blogathon, where a guy was trapped in an abandoned cottage during a magical storm and had to kill time by interacting and engaging with the other people who were seeking shelter there (which includes a king of clowns, a badass barbarian with a cute name, a cheerful girl protected by the badass barbarian with a cute name, an old astronaut, a child entrepreneur who forsakes art for capitalism, a fortune-telling gypsy who knows the mysterious way of the world). Each story told by the characters was meant to develop the character or the settings, or both. No matter what, I thought such things were needed to generate some sort of mood for the readers, or establish a kind of link to engage them. Hell, even my upcoming short film, Girl Disconnected, is supposed to be like this as well (girl travels to the moon, seeking her lover, and during her journey, meets the denizens there, each with stories to tell).
When I went through the stories told by the numerous not-very-colourful characters Toru ran into (two fortune-telling sisters, random philosophizing teenage girl, a weird mother and son pairing, old war veteran, etc), the only emotion I felt was sheer annoyance, I didn't care for either of the characters, I didn't WANT to read their stories, especially not twenty to thirty pages worth of horrible war experiences being recounted where a guy being skinned alive was being described in graphic detail (yay for bloodthirsty sadists for me), nor letters about duck people (I visualize an army of Donald Ducks and Daffy Ducks tearing up the joint), nor some prostitute who felt nothing when serving her clients until the last client was so electrical with negative energies that she ended up claiming that the man raped her both mentally and spiritually and physically, or poor bishounen (pretty boy in Japanese) who turned into a mute after witnessing some seriously intense shit in the past, or evil brother-in-laws with aspirations to conquer the world. I wished all these random people would just get the hell away so I can know HOW Toru's going to deal with his wife. Isn't that the emotional core of the book?
Or maybe I'm completely missing the point of this. And that I should be EMBRACING the sheer randomness of the novel. To 'feel' its strangeness and alienation, to 'appreciate' the surrealism of it and regard it as 'art'. Some will start arguing that the pointlessness of Murakami's book is its beauty. That everything's meant to be so banal and flat that anything slightly weird will make me double over in amazement of its unconventionality and magic.
Is that so?
Nope, not feeling it.
Let me try again.
La la la.
La dee daaa.
Whoopee do wop.
Nope, still can't feel it.
I shall walk to the toilet and meditate on this.
I got slowly off my feet, from my laptop computer.
I entered my rat-infested bathroom.
Then I urinated while my mind scattered to many different directions at once.
I washed my hand, looked at the mirror, and marveled at my flawless complexion. Happy that no blue black stain had appeared on my cheek, nor any unexplainable mark that would taint my beauty. I trudged my way back to my desk, and stared at the computer screen and proceeded to continue with writing this review.
And no, I still haven't found anything I can like about the sheer randomness of The Wind-up Bird Chronicles. Perhaps I am not hip enough to understand the bizarreness of the story. The poetry weaved together masterfully by Murakami flew right over my head. Instead of praising what he did as art, I can only shake my head in disgust, declaring that Haruki Murakami was just being infuriatingly pretentious.
However, the ending of the book didn't drive me into some insane fury like I have initially expected as many loose ends were tied. Not all questions were answered. Not all questions were meant to be questions at all. They were just tossed in for the sake of randomness. Despite the ending's slight redemptive qualities, I must say that the journey there was pretty damned traumatic for someone with an untrained mind for random crap like me.
I will do what Justin did by addressing the blurbs from the front and back of the book.
"Mesmerising, surreal, this really is the work of a true original" - The Times
Original indeed. I've never encountered a writer who angers me so much when trying to be mesmerizing and surreal.
"Murakami writes of contemporary Japan, urban alienation and journeys of self-discovery, and in this book he combines recollections of the war with metaphysics, dreams and hallucinations into a powerful and impressionistic work." - IndependentThe book makes me want to traverse through contemporary Perth for a journey of self-discovery ("why the hell did I pay for this?") and alienating myself from everyone else ("I am tainted."). Perhaps I need recollections of war videogames, dreams and hallucinations of hot babes to fill the massive void that opened within me after reading this supposedly powerful and impressionistic work.
"Murakami weaves these textured layers of reality into shot-silk garment of deceptive beauty." - Independent on SundayI felt so deceived after reading the book that I wanted to cover myself with textured layers of my blankets.
"Critics have variously likened him to Raymond Carver, Raymond Chandler, Arthur C. Clarke, Don DeLillo, Phillip K. Dick, Bret Easton Ellis and Thomas Pynchon - a roster so ill assorted as to suggest Murakami is in fact an original." - New York Times.I'm feeling rather ill.
"Deeply philosophical and teasingly perplexing, it is impossible to put down." - Daily TelegraphWith my shallow mind, I was perplexed by its philosophy and teases, I wanted to put myself down instead.
"How does Murakami manage to make poetry while writing of contemporary life and emotions? I am weak-kneed with admiration" - Independent on Sunday(This blurb appeared on the back of Elephant Vanishes as well and Justin has already addressed it). How does the Independent on Sunday manage to make such incredible hyperboles? I am weak-kneed with admiration.