“I’m going to take you out of here … I’m going to take you home, to the world where you belong, where cats with bent tails live, and there are little backyards, and alarm clocks ring in the morning.”
I think the best way to start this review is with a round of Murakami bingo:
Without stopping to think I can say the Wind Up Bird Chronicle hits the following: dried up well, mysterious woman, unusual name, phone call, cats, vanishing cats, secret passage and weird sex. Who wouldn’t want to read a book like that?
I’m not really sure how to explain this book, only to say that I couldn’t put it down. It starts with a missing cat and a phone call. Toru Okada doesn’t particularly love or hate the cat, but it belongs to his wife Kumiko. Kumiko, it soon transpires, is also missing. These disappearances lead Toru on a journey of discovery – discovery of himself, of the state of his marriage, and of the world around him, which he has seemingly never really looked at before.
“What we see before us is just one tiny part of the world. We get in the habit of thinking, this is the world, but that’s not true at all. The real world is a much darker and deeper place than this, and much of it is occupied by jellyfish and things.”
Toru meets several strange characters along the way, from a forgotten war veteran to a psychic prostitute, and not forgetting my personal favourite, a jaded 16 year old girl called May Kasahara, who’s seemingly unconstructive words provide Toru with a constant, real presence in the weird world he finds himself drawn further and further into.
“Pessimistic … pessimistic …” She repeated the English to herself over and over, and then she looked up at me with a fierce glare. “I’m only sixteen,” she said, “and I don’t know much about the world, but I do know one thing for sure. If I’m pessimistic, then the adults in this world who are not pessimistic are a bunch of idiots.”
This is the kind of book where you suddenly realise you’ve read 200 pages and kind of don’t really know what’s going on, but don’t particularly care. Its magical realism at its most bizarre, and in my opinion, a good introduction to the novels of Haruki Murakami, in that its relatively easy to read (in comparison to some of his other work), and because it features characters like Toru and May Kasahara that you really start to care about. Some of Murakami’s other novels, particularly the earlier ones, don’t inspire such feeling for the characters – you go on a bizarre journey with them, but by the end, you aren’t really sure why you bothered. Here, you wonder how Toru can ever go back to his regular life, the one he had before the cat disappeared and the phone rang. But by the end I was asking myself, would he even want to? If you like reading things that are a little out of the ordinary, if you like books that take you on a weird and wonderful ride during which it’s impossible to predict what might happen next, like me, you probably won’t be able to put it down.
“Goodbye, Mr. Wind-Up Bird. See you again sometime.”