Japan's most highly regarded novelist now vaults into the first ranks of international fiction writers with this heroically imaginative novel, which is at once a detective story, an account of a disintegrating marriage, and an excavation of the buried secrets of World War II.
In a Tokyo suburb a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife's missing cat.... Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo.
As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists: a psychic prostitute; a malevolent yet mediagenic politician; a cheerfully morbid 16-year-old-girl; and an aging war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan's forgotten campaign in Manchuria.
Gripping, prophetic, suffused with comedy and menace, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a tour de force equal in scope to the masterpieces of Mishima and Pynchon.
©1997 Haruki Murakami (P)2013 Random House Audio
"Dreamlike and compelling.... Murakami is a genius." (Chicago Tribune)
Murakami's wonderfully delicate, mysterious and absorbing novel is terribly marred by the narration here; Degas renders the main character unpleasantly arch and snarky initially and seems to be struggling without success to find the right voice for him throughout; children and teens have voices like obnoxious TV cartoon characters, and both female and children's voices are indicated by a very rapid, jerky, breathy, oddly pitched delivery that's just all wrong and actually jarring. The tone throughout is much too theatrical and feverish for the quiet deeps, wry humor and reflective unfolding of this tale.I loved reading this book - Murakami's stories never seem abstract and 'experimental' in the off-putting way at all and I can never put them down. Other narrators have done Murakami really, really well (1Q84, with multiple readers, is terrific, as is Kafka By the Shore with Sean Barrett and Oliver Le Sueur ). Degas just never gets the mood of the work right, to my mind.
I'm a Murakawa fan; would just add to the many reviews of his work something that's often not mentioned - not only are they deeply beautiful, his novels are really fun to read. I think he's often made out to be less accessible than he is; newcomers should just relax and flow along with the narrative and not be too worried about assembling things - just kick back and enjoy the ride. Even with a poor narrator it's a dandy.
No indeed. I'm really not such a hard critic of audiobook performances and appreciate many readers deeply, but a good reader needs to understand and respect his characters and not deliver caricatures.
I didn't closely follow the outline suggested here (seriously?), but would say that this is a tremendous tale, difficult to put down for those who like Murakami's work, and widely reviewed elsewhere; I only wanted to warn readers that they might be unfairly put off this author by the disappointing performance here.
"... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^
A weird metaphysical (I KNOW it is a bit redundant to start off ANY review of Murakami by dressing it up in adjectives like weird & metaphysical) novel. I remember wanting to buy this book back in 2007, but I was poor and just about to get married and it seemed like my limited money would be better spent on bread and cheese. Now I own three (four if you count audible), but I still wish I bought it. I still regret NOT buying it. Not necessarily because I wish I had read it earlier. I think I'm reading Wind-Up Bird Chronicle at exactly the right point for me, but just because I would have liked to carry that book with me like some form of lucky talisman during the last 17 years (kinda like what I did with Infinite Jest). And it is more than that ... I actually remember in my brain THE book. Displayed with the bird eye out against a support beam in the bookstore. I regret not buying THAT book.
I've now read about all of Murakami. Well not quite. I still have to read: 1Q84, Sputnik Sweetheart, Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, Hear the Wind Sing & Pinball, 1973. That's it. After THAT I'm done. Anyway, my point is even after reading 11 or more previous Murakami novels I still exit W-BC a bit uncertain.
I liked it a lot and think it is an important novel and worth the listen/read, but it just seemed a bit too untidy or ambiguous. I KNOW. The novel is built on ambiguity, uncertainty, evil, weird coincidences, funky time, projections, reflections, shadows. My only criticism is that sometimes the shadows seemed to cover the reflections (metaphorically speaking). Sometimes, I read a page and was left with not just a WTF moment, but exhausted from not knowing WHY it twas a WTF moment. Anyway, there still is no escaping that the novel is huge, creepy, cool, and feels like David Lynch should make the movie (complete with midgets and nymphets). For me it was a 21st century novel written in the last decade of the 20th century, reflecting on the evils and history of the past and present Japan.
3 words: surreal, sinister, gripping.
An ordinary life goes slowly and then not so slowly off the rails, until the line between dreams and waking is no longer clear. The cast of characters is rich and interesting.
If felt like the author kind of gave up on making a coherent story of all the threads he had been drawing out through the book. Instead of the lines converging, they mostly proceed independently towards the horizon. The Manchurian war episodes contrast jarringly with the domestic life portrait.
By far the best thing about the experience. The range of different accents and affects he brings to the characters, like the threatening messenger or the teenage girl, is wonderful. The quiet, sibilant politician's voice will stick in my ear for a long time.
It certainly kept me awake late several nights.
The storyline was complex and VERY imaginative. From reading some of the other reviews, it seems that people either love the narration or hate it. I really enjoyed that Mr. Degas was able to create such distinct voices for each of the characters. It made the audio easy to follow. I admit that some of the voices were a bit exaggerated, consistent with the perceived nature of the particular character, but for me, that was a plus. I enjoyed both the story and the performance.
I've now ventured through more of his books but this remains my favorite. Performance seems like it should be annoying, but somehow is just perfect instead.
Re Audible: I rate A-F based on 10-pt scale (e.g. 90-100 = A = *****). I try not to be too soft on ratings, or needlessly give F's.
Do you ever try some fancy fine vintage that everyone raves about, and worry to yourself “Crap. Maybe I just like cheap wines?”
As a general summary, I found the book (main plot and subplots) to be tedious and a bit mundane, while inserting teases and plot points promising that it’ll be worth it when it’s all assembled. When stuff came together though it consistently proved to be anticlimactic. And the mysterious deeper themes were not really all that deep. While I can appreciate that the writing is generally very fluid and elegant, I just felt blasé about what the writing actually said.
Getting into some explanations of that general impression summary of the book...
I found it to be slow, both in story and narration (after the first 8+ hours I actually played the rest at 1.25x). I felt like most of the interesting stuff others have mentioned was largely in the main character’s head, and it wasn’t a very imaginative head at that. I love Neil Gaiman’s works, especially Neverwhere and American Gods. One of my favorite aspects of America Gods was the repeated moment when I said to myself “I THINK this is real, and he’s not just hallucinating.” Gaiman does a great job with a character’s transition from a previously “normal” life into a fantastical (and sometimes gritty/dark) world below the surface. Reading reviews of this book, I thought it’d be much the same, but I was sorely disappointed. Most of the “fantastical” bits were easily explained away (many were clearly dreams) and others were simply not that impressive. The supposedly “creepy,” “nightmarish,” “dark” bits were really not in any metaphysical way. There’s more fantastical dark craziness in my head on any given day than in this book. People have waxed poetic about the story’s unique weird dream-like adventure—personally though, I’d just call it Monday.
Redundancies got kind of old. For example: “That would be my salvation. It would be my freedom from this prison and pain.” Those are pretty much the same in this context. There’s no need to say it twice.
There’s a lot of detailed description of what Toru Okada did at any given moment, which I felt was tedious and failed to serve any significant purpose. For example, he was on his way out for a reason that had no more finality or apparent significance than any of the other times, but he still said ”I went through the house, shutting windows and turning off lights. Then I locked the door.” Yes, that’s generally the sequence of events. You can leave it out the next three times you leave the house.
In general I found the ‘deeper meanings’ of suffering in life, alienation, and sense of self in an oddly chaotic yet deterministic world to be a little shallow too. When I saw one or another of the themes coalesce out of the writing, I just thought “Meh. Yeah, I remember trying to sort that out when I was THIRTEEN.”
*Note: The intermittent motif of the struggle with Japan’s history was incorporated through stories from characters, and I thought that part was interesting.
As far as conveying those themes, I found there to be one of two approaches:
1) A subplot story, flashback, or conversation/statement that delivers the message to have all the grace and subtlety of a sledgehammer.
2) Sort of meander and amble for an inordinately long time, slowly coalescing the point, to which my reaction was typically “Seriously?! That’s it?!” I was occasionally worried I was missing some deeper meaning.
Also, the meandering nature occasionally seemed like it was going to wander someplace cool when I could see a description of a setting, event, or person begin to morph into a subtle metaphor or shape into a potential step in the plot, but then it would just stop and jump forward in time or cut to a flashback or a dream or just fizzle. This may be my fault for thinking through some of the metaphors/messages I saw arising to their potential conclusions (thus being disappointed when Murakami stopped way before that).
None of the female characters are likable, except the 16-yr-old May (but the narrator’s voice-acting for her really seemed like a crude caricature of a teenage girl). Creta’s monologue about her history was almost absurd. Malta is just odd without justification for the first 1/2 of the story. Kumiko Okada seemed to be cold (which makes sense in the long run). My complaint was that she really only seemed to have two settings that alternate between kurt/cold/snippety and whiny, but part of that may be narration again.
On the whole, narration was OK at best, but he used a pseudo-falsetto for several female characters that I didn’t particularly like.
This book is awesome, but only if you read it in the right mindset. You will like it if you constantly ask your self what does this character represent, what does this scene represent? It's all about symbolism. If you don't want to read a book like that, then you likely will not enjoying this book.
I'm terrible at literary criticism. I think I read more from my emotional side than analytic side. So having said that...
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was like taking a long, leisurely drive on a windy and scenic road with someone else in the driver's seat. Here and there the scenery transfixes, and you slow down to take a more careful look. Other places the curves are tight and you look over the edge to the abyss, and thankfully have confidence that the driver will keep to the road.
This is my second Haruki Murakami novel, the first being IQ84. I had no idea what I was getting into with the IQ84. With The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle I was more prepared. The story is part absolutely mundane and part completely surreal with words that make it all flow together.
I don't know why I like these books, but I do. In a way I enjoyed this more than IQ84. In both there is violence, however surreal and fictional (in both senses of the word). But The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is more of a journey, like a road, that leads you from one place to the next. There is clearly a hero and a villain. Well, clearly in the Haruki Murakami sense of the world.
The story's narrator Toru Okada is also an observer, but he has faith in the outcome and his intentions are clear. He's willing to take whatever path is shown to him, and finds a few of his own making. Those around him share their stories while paving the way, or create diversions that may or may not help him on his way. Sometimes The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, made me feel like Alice in Wonderland, in more ways than just the disappearing cats.
The reader did a wonderful job.
If you can go along for the ride, the journey is quite lovely.
Many of the performer's voices were distractingly awful. His voice for May sounds exactly like a man doing a comedic impression of an annoying teenage girl for a broad comedy, his voice for Ushikara is a bad villain stereotype from a low budget Hanna Barbera cartoon, and he insists on reading the 'news story' chapters using a poor imitation of a classic newsreel narrator. The only thing that kept me listening was the wonderful writing of Murakami itself, which deserves the respect of a competent vocal actor.
This was my third Murakami book (and first audio book). I read Kafka On The Shore and Norwegian Wood before this and Wind Up Bird is probably my least favorite of the three. That's not to say it isn't a good book, it just doesn't come near Kafka for me. Also there are long periods of flashback in this book that I didn't care for, they became quite monotonous. If you're a huge fan of Murakami though, then this is a must.
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