The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami: A review

 

Haruki Murakami is a highly acclaimed writer of fiction and I have read and enjoyed books by him before, books such as Killing Commendatore in 2019 and Kafka on the Shore in 2017. I had had this one in my reading queue for a while and kept putting off reading it because it is over 600 pages long and I didn't want to commit myself to the time and effort it would take. But finally, it was time to just bite the bullet and get on with it. I had actually looked forward to reading it and anticipated a challenging but ultimately enjoyable reading experience. That is not the experience that I had.

I'm not sure how Murakami envisioned this book. Did he mean it as a fairy tale? A detective story? Science fiction? A bit of all three or maybe something else? In the end, after 600+ pages I just couldn't decide. 

In addition to all the above, the author gives us a bit of World War II and post-World War II Japanese history and examines Japanese guilt in all of this. It is a very heavy load for a book of fiction to have to carry. In the final analysis, it was too much and the narrative collapsed under the weight.

The protagonist of the story is Toru Okada. He had worked as a kind of general factotum at a Tokyo law firm, but he had recently quit his job. After that, his cat disappears and while he is out looking for it, he runs into all kinds of bizarre events. Then his wife disappears as well, leaving without a word, and he has to reassess their life together and try to figure out what went wrong. Toru Okada doesn't have a clue.

As he searches for his wife and his cat, Toru encounters a series of strange people. Though seemingly unconnected, as the story unfolds, we learn that in fact there are weird coincidences that link them. The writer uses these associations to build the plot and subplots. Oh, so many subplots! I had the sense that I was wading through tall grass that I couldn't see over. Is that what Murakami intended for his readers?

It seems that perhaps the author really did envisage this as a detective story because he drops a copious number of red herrings all through the plot. The world that he describes is a very mysterious place, one that seems to shift back and forth between reality and fantasy. 

And did I mention that when the world is too much with him, Toru climbs to the bottom of a well and sits there in the dark to consider things? He spent quite a lot of time in that well and I felt just as much in the dark as he was. 

I confess I looked at the reviews and ratings of this book on Goodreads to get a sense of what my fellow readers thought. I saw a lot of five-star and four-star ratings and glowing reviews of what a terrific book it was. All I can say is they must have read a different book than I did.

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Comments

  1. WOW how disappointing for you. His writing is odd, different but yet addictive at times as well. I've read several books by this author and this sounded vaguely familiar. It turns out I "listened to it" in 2010 and enjoyed it. Here is my review link: http://bibliophilebythesea.blogspot.com/2010/12/156-wind-up-bird-chronicle-haruki.html. I own a couple more that I haven't gotten to yet.

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    1. Maybe I should have listened to it. That might have provided a better experience. Reading it was excruciating.

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  2. This one must be really bad, Dorothy. I can't remember when you last gave a score of one, if ever!

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    1. It doesn't happen very often. I think I tend to err on the generous side, but I really hated this one!

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  3. I know what you mean about not wanting to commit to a 600+ page book! I've read several of Murakami's books that I've enjoyed, but I haven't read this one. (And I'm thinking I probably won't any time soon.)

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    1. Obviously, a lot of people have enjoyed this one. (See Diane's review.) I think I am definitely in the minority but I cannot recommend it.

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  4. This kind of reading experience is the worst thing ever...when it comes to reading. Extra-long books require that a reader put off reading other books for a period of time they will never get back. When the chosen book is a dud...that is frustrating. I find myself abandoning more books than ever as I get older. That's probably a mistake in some cases, but who has the time anymore to keep reading with their fingers crossed that a book may finally click.

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    1. You and my husband are of the same mind, Sam. He'll give a book maybe 50 pages and if it doesn't click with him, he's on to the next one. And I can certainly see the wisdom in that and yet if I commit to reading a book, I'm going to read it all the way to the end. Call me a masochist, I guess.

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  5. Wow! This has got to be an awful book for you to rate it so low. I know for sure that I never want to read it.

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    1. A lot of readers seem to really love it, but, yes, for me it was pretty awful.

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