Missing cats, taboo sex scenes and hectic surrealism – nothing speaks more Murakami than The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I was first initiated into the world of Murakami through this book, and nothing had prepared me for the hallucinogenic trip I was about to take. There is honestly no other way to explain the confusing events and seemingly illogical timeline that the story is wrapped up in. What is real, and what is just a dream?
Usually when reading a new book, I try to stay away from the blurb, thinking it will ruin the story for me (because most of the time it does). So when I began my Murakami journey, I had no idea just what I was getting into. The only novel of his I was aware of at the time was Norwegian Wood, and that was your typical love-story-turned-tragedy, without all the surreal elements his other works are famous for. I distinctly remember sitting down and reading the first few pages – it had started off normal enough. A man is cooking spaghetti, minding his own business, when he is interrupted by an anonymous caller wanting sex. It becomes stranger once he goes out in search of his missing cat, and from then on, it’s as if you’re falling down a tunnel where the people get weirder, the events get wilder, and most importantly, the themes hit closer to home.
At first the plot seems pretty simple. A young man by the name of Toru Okada leads an ordinary life. He has a nice wife and a nice house, and they live together in a nice suburb. Sure, he’s hit a bump along the road by losing his job and his pet cat, as well as becoming more distant with his wife who is always busy with work. Straightforward problems with straightforward solutions, right? Perhaps Toru will become employed again. Perhaps his missing cat will return home safe and sound, and perhaps we won’t only know his wife through his recollections and her phone calls. But as we read on, we begin to realise these problems go a lot deeper than the glossy surface he presents. All these peculiarities are intertwined, and nothing is really as it seems. The reality is more disturbing and heartbreaking than we could have envisioned.
The funny thing is, although the storyline becomes increasingly metaphysical, you don’t feel disconnected from it at all. If anything, you become more invested in Toru Okada, and the surreal portrayal of his life makes the underlying problems more understandable than if portrayed otherwise. I fell in love with the book because it felt so relatable. If it had been written any other way, the issues Murakami addresses would probably not have made such a big impact, or opened my eyes the way they did. Despite the crazy twists and turns, it made me question my own life and the way I viewed everything – it was almost as if I had become one with Toru’s existential crisis. And not to mention how beautiful the writing itself was. From the get-go, I was hooked. Murakami’s style is simplistic yet captivating, its fluidity makes the story extremely easy to devour, and I found myself thinking about the characters even when I was out and about doing other things. The book was never far from my mind, and I could never wait long before I sat down again to drink it all up.
Maybe it was just because I had no preconception of the novel, or had never read anything quite like it, but The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle has become something I mention to anyone who asks (or doesn’t ask) for a book recommendation, and is hands down one of my favourite novels, if not my favourite.
Tiffany aspires to own a guinea pig farm one day.