The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

If you are a fan of Murakami Haruki’s work, or indeed if you’ve never even read one of his novels before, you’re in for a treat with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,
an epic tale of adventure and mystery set in Tokyo in the 1980s.

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But don’t judge the book by that description alone — this is a mystery like none you’ve ever read, a twisting, complex tapestry of strange characters and even stranger events.

The book follows the slow-motion, dream-like actions of a man named Toru, as he slowly watches his life descend into more and more surreal situations. At the beginning of the book he starts out as an unemployed house-husband, lazily doing chores and cooking meals for his wife, who works as a magazine editor.

He seems to enjoy his overwhelmingly boring existence, and during the hours when his wife is at the office, he seems to enjoy doing copious amounts of nothing. When the family cat goes missing, however, things change. Toru’s wife puts him in charge of finding the cat, and this ends up taking him out of his comfort zone and into the ever-baffling world of other people and their strange habits.

This seems to trigger a metamorphosis in his own reality, as Toru starts to experience odd phone calls and chance meetings with complete strangers who seem to know a lot about him. His easy, predictable life begins to evolve into something much more complicated and oblique.

As the narrative progresses, things really go off the deep end. Peripheral characters, numerous sub-plots, and increasingly bizarre occurrences turn a simple mystery about a missing cat into a story filled with danger, betrayal, and malice. Characters disappear and reappear in incongruous ways, and the toll on Toru’s emotional state is significant.

He withdraws further and further into his own thoughts, while at the same time he feels compelled to continue on his quest to investigate an increasingly numerous set of questions with no readily apparent answers. Critics of the book have remarked that some of the sub-plots don’t resolve as cleanly as they could, but others argue that this was Murakami’s intention, and is indeed part of the symbolism inherent in the story.

Loose ends are often a fact of life, a lack of closure that we simply must accept. The unresolved aspects are therefore part of the delicate intricacy of the overall tale, a feature rather than a defect.

The book is a bit on the long side (the English translation is just over 600 pages), but don’t let that, combined with my warnings of complex storylines, put you off trying it out. Make no mistake, this novel is engaging and absorbing right from the very first page, and even through repeat readings the text is easy to follow, and always a pleasure to read.

Murakami is the master of taking scores of seemingly unrelated events and tying them together in ways that shock and delight his readers, and this book represents all the best qualities of his inimitable, ethereal style.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is available at all major retailers, including Amazon. The story is not sexual in nature, but within the context of the narrative there are some infrequent descriptions of sexual acts, which may be inappropriate for young or sensitive readers.

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