Haruki Murakami, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
Toru Okada is a married man from the suburbs of Tokyo. He quit his job and, while looking for another job without much enthusiasm, he takes care of the house, reads and listens to jazz. Progressively, his comfortable life slips into the uncanny. First, his cat disappears, and this upsets his wife more than it should. Then, he receives explicit phone calls from a woman who pretends to know him, but whom he cannot remember. Soon, he realizes that his wife grows more and more distant, coming back from work late and probably hiding things from him.
Toru Okada’s ordinary existence takes a whole new turn, as he begins to lose his grip on reality, and cannot distinguish anymore between dreams and life. On a journey to disintegration and self-discovery, death and rebirth, which goal is to win back Kumiko, his wife, Toru Okada meets many strange people who each have a story to tell: a sixteen-year-old neighbor living opposite a strange deserted house with a dried-up well, two sister with psychic powers, a ex-lieutenant who fought the Chinese during WWII, a rich woman and her son, etc. Each people hold a clue to Toru Okada’s predicament.
For the first 400 pages or so, I really loved The Wind-up Bird Chronicle for its originality. This story of urban loneliness and loss of references and identity reminded me a lot of Paul Auster’s novels. At the same time, with a theme such as love as battle to be fought and won and the threatening presence throughout the book of Noboru Wataya, the narrator’s nemesis, it also recalls older literary traditions. Anyway, Murakami struck me as the most westernized Japanese author I have read so far. If I liked most things about this novel, I became increasingly bothered by the long digressions involving other characters (mainly the war passages…). At first, these are part of the game but after a while I felt that the novel itself was losing its momentum. With the repetition of certain situations, it also lost its power to surprise. However, in other passages, my interest was awoken again. Finally, I was in turn enthralled and bored by the novel. I really loved the atmosphere, the story of that man losing everything that anchors him to the world and shedding the passivity that has been at the chore of his life to finally take responsibility, but the book was definitely too long, too vast in scope, maybe overambitious. I will probably try another novel by Murakami in the near future…