To continue a year of discovery about my new favourite author, I read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, perhaps the most conclusive of the Murakami novels that I have read to date (The list at the moment stands at After Dark, Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. I have received three more for Christmas so you can expect many more reviews to come!).
Unlike Kafka on the Shore, Wind-up follows the life of just one man, Toru Okada, who begins to lose all that is dear to him. He gave up his job as a clerk in a Solicitors firm because he didn’t feel that it was the direction he wanted his career to go in. He spent his time at home, thinking about what he wanted to do. His cat went missing and so whilst his wife was out at work, he suddenly had something to do, something to focus on. But who would have thought that a missing cat could possibly lead to Mr Okada’s life unfolding as it does?
We all feel at some point, like Mr Okada, that we need to search for something, that our life as it stands isn’t quite as it should be. And I’m sure that it’s true that people can end up looking in the most unlikely of places to find what it is that they seek. A chance encounter and an intriguing conversation can plant seeds in your mind and help you uncover and unravel your own mystery. For a character such as Mr Okada, whom everyone feels at ease to speak to, it is easy for him to become the recipient to a wealth of strange tales of various people’s lives. May Kasahara, as a young girl, has many confusing thoughts and dreams which she innocently spills out to Mr Okada, her naivety is juxtaposed when she almost leaves him to die and this creates one of many intriguing characters. Malta Kano seems to be a riddle from start to end but her sister Creta is a little less elusive, we discover elements of her life that she has kept from so many and wonder why she feels she can offload it to Mr Okada. As a reader I feel like I am let into a true secret when she reveals her moving story to him.
Lieutenant Mamiya is one of the most important characters, integral to the story yet a peripheral character in many ways, he is the one with the most dangerous story to tell and he influences Mr Okada the most when he tells him about where he was thrown by Boris the Manskinner after a map-making mission to Mongolia.
I don’t usually like stories about wars, however this one is intertwined amongst so many other stories that it didn’t distress me too much, apart from one incredibly horrific incident which I honestly had to skim through. This one moment of the book was so spine-chillingly cold-blooded and evil that it makes me sick to the stomach to think of it. However, I can see how the story needed it and how as a writer it must have been an incredible journey for Murakami to write about it.
As with any Murakami book there are elements of the tale that are left dangling with no conclusion or explanation, however I did feel that this book ended in quite a satisfactory way. The themes of the story were incredibly relevant, despite the often other-worldly elements that he uses to portray them.
The main theme of the book, as I see it, was about how events in a life can inexplicably change a person’s core being. How a person can feel completely altered after one encounter. How through dreams one can explore another world, travel through a journey and come to find peace with the change. How some people are more able to adapt to the change than others. Some people need to leave all that they know of their lives to be able to move on after a change and become someone else. Others may need to just sit, quietly, in the damp dark bottom of a well. Others may need to move far away to a land of distraction. However it’s achieved, people need to cope with their own adaption to the world around them and need to see how it affects and changes them as an individual.
Of course I haven’t even mentioned the Wind-up Bird itself or what it means. My interpretation of this bird can only be conjecture as it is never explained in the book, but the way I see it, the bird is there for those who notice it, always there, always winding up the world on its spring and always in the background. Those people who notice it do so because there is something a little special about them, they are not joining the rat race whole-heartedly, they are always taking a step back to assess what things are really like and to admire the view. They have a wide-screen view of the world and don’t keep everything zoomed in. The big picture thinkers, they notice the wind-up bird and they hear it winding its spring.
Another moment of note in the story is the explanation of how Cinnamon lost his ability to speak, so short and almost skimmed over this tiny story within the story is beautifully told and creates the most wonderful imagery so that I can still picture the dark night, the tree and the shovel as clearly as if I saw it with my own eyes. And that is one of the wonderful things about this author, as you read his book you really live every moment, you smell the perfume, you taste the Cutty Sark and you feel the fear when you reach out to grip the baseball bat that isn’t there. Though I feel I have lived this story along with Mr Okada, there is one thing that it explained with all its might that I still feel I need to experience firsthand to really be able to get the book.
I want to go and sit in the bottom of a dried out well and just mull life over, I want to feel the heat of the sun on my face for that moment when its position in the sky allows it to cascade down onto me. I want to reach that state of meditation where I leave the place I am in and travel afar. And I want to then feel that change as I emerge from the well, my skin tingling with the freshness of the air as I leave the dampness behind.