The Wind Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

I haven’t read any Murakami for ages, well I have only read one, and that was Kafka on the Shore which I loved and had fond memories of. That was about three years ago though and we all know how our tastes can change. This months book group choice saw us reading what many people deem to be Murakami’s greatest work ‘The Wind Up Bird Chronicle’ originally published as a series of three books in Japan but brought together in one giant doorstep of a book here in the UK. Would I love the surreal world of Murakami once more?

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle is the tale of Toru Okada who when we meet him is cooking spaghetti at home for breakfast. Toru is unemployed after quitting his career in law and stays home while his wife works, does the shopping, the cleaning and is sent on errands, the latest being to find their missing cat. It is from this time that we drop into his world and so happens to be the day everything changes for him. He gets a random call from a woman which is of a very explicit nature who knows him and yet he has never met her. He visits the local ‘haunted house’ and meets one of his young neighbours a girl obsessed with death. He also meets the mysterious sisters Malta and Crete Kano one who is a psychic and hunting for his cat though no one asked her too, the other has spent half her life so far in never ending pain and then in numbness. Within weeks Toru’s wife then disappears and Toru must go on a journey with some of these crazy characters, and many more, as he has to explore his past, present and his future in order to try and find his wife.

Now being a Murakami that is not all that is involved in the book and we are sent off into the pasts of all the characters that he then meets. Some who have seen such violent things as the skinning of a man (which I couldn’t stop reading but disturbed me no end) or another who tells the tale of a zoo and its creatures killed in war. There are also tales of suburban suicides, prostitution, depression, rape, the supernatural, love that should never have been, marriage and much more. You get the feeling that though Toru is named ‘Mr Wind Up Bird’ this is less his chronicles and more the chronicles of those he meets along the way who all have different tales to tell. It’s like Toru is a vehicle for many things that Murakami wants to tell you or draw your attention to, sometimes it also seems its just Murakami’s whim. You may not get every tale or off shoot subplot nicely tied up at the end and some stories lead you off to nowhere and then just drop you, but that is all part of the magic of Murakami.

What was perfect with this book was having book group pretty much straight after I finished it. In fact the very same thing happened with Kafka on the Shore. I do find it helps to have a good old chin wag after you have read a Murakami as though it is utterly delightful to be sent of into such surreal, or as I like to call it ‘utterly doolally but brilliant’, territory you can come away thinking ‘what?’ In fact as we all said sometimes you would be worried as you read it that your mind had wandered because in a page it can change so much or become so bizarre, you flick back and find no, that’s just Murakami. I liked this book a lot, the final third part of the book I didn’t gel with so much. Overall though it was balmy brilliance… Sometimes confusing but ultimately enthralling.

If you haven’t read Murakami you should, I would try Kafka on the Shore first though, I wish I had a blog when I read it I could go back and see my thoughts on him at the time, shucks! I definitely want to read more of his work the question is which one should I try after this (I am not reading him two in a row that would be madness)? Who else has read him and what would you recommend next?


Filed under Book Group, Haruki Murakami, Review, Vintage Books

43 responses to “The Wind Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

  1. So glad you liked this book. I read it a little while back, and loved it as well. I think you’ve pretty much pin-pointed a very important part of the entire story, “It’s like Toru is a vehicle for many things that Murakami wants to tell you”.

    I also really liked Dance Dance Dance, though it kind of comes as a sequal to A Wild Sheep Chase. I haven’t read the sheep book, but enjoyed the Dance book all the same.

    People have been raving about Norwegian Wood, which also I haven’t read, but I’d definitely recommend Sputnik Sweetheart.

    I think I better stop now. I’m near listing all the Murakami books I know!

    • Hahahaha I have Norwegian Wood, his non fiction ‘Underground’ and ‘Wild Sheep Chase’ though have a feeling am missing the first on in the trilogy of the series the White Sheep Chase is from. Annoying that as I like to read everything in order. I was sure I had another one but I dont know if I do, will do some more hunting this weekend.

    • Thanks for this. Not an author I knew, so keen to read this after yr review. Rosalind

  2. I’ve read a number of reviews of this book, and it seems everyone struggles to explain the book. That says alot, right there, but you’ve done a great job really. I’ve got this book and Kafka on my shelves, but have been waiting for the right time (translation – the size of the books intimidates me!). I did read his memoir recently (What I Talk About When I Talk About Running) which I loved. I also started Blind Willow/Sleeping Woman on audio and had to abandon it. I don’t think Murakami was meant for audio.

    • It’s got such a huge scope and so many bits of randomness in it that its just really difficult to surmise. I did try as much as I could. Read Kafka would be my advice Sandy as its utterly brilliant.

      I have to say I can’t imagine Murakami on audio. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is one of his works that definitley intrigues me.

  3. Great summary of the book, Simon! It made more sense reading the blog post that discussing it last night!

    I’d suggest Sputnik Sweetheart or After Dark as I really enjoyed both and, as for myself, I’m still intent on reading Kafka on the Shore today. I think some Murakami and hot chocolate with marshmallows are in order as I am feeling rather sorry for myself – I sprained my wrist in my fall last night and had a painful night :(.

    • You poor thing, I hopr you recover speedily from the bump and the blasted cold. Kafka and marshmallows sounds good, you might need some extra comfort food for certain scenes as I know you are a cat lover.

  4. This was my first Murakami which I read many years ago, but I still cannot get the images of skinning out of my mind. I agree it was truly disturbing yet strangely fascinating… My favourite Murakami is still Norwegian Wood which is a love story and does not have much fantastical/whimsical episodes like his other titles.

    • Some of the things he describes are just so vivid and even if they are disturbing or uneasy you simply cannot stop reading them… well I couldnt.

      I have heard Norwegian Wood is the least Murakami like of his novels, well thats what people said last night, so that interests me greatly.

  5. I’m 30 pages from the end of Kafka on the Shore and have to say that I loved it. I loved WUBC, but it’s been several years since I read it. My first Murakamis were Wild Sheep Chase (which I thoroughly recommend) and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (which is also fabulous). I’d love to read more Murakami!

  6. Caitie F

    i have to find this! I have read After the Quake and Sputnik Sweetheart and loved reading them. Murakami has such a great writing style and tells an amazing story. This will be the next one I read!

    • It’s great but its a book you need to put down a lot. I forgot to say that in my review… oops. After The Quake is another that I think sounds really brilliant. I wonder if Vintage will ever do a box set of them all… I think they should hint, hint!

  7. This was my first Murakami read, back when I was a teen, and I was completely in love with it. To be honest, I don’t remember much of the plot now, but what stuck with me was that it started off as such a seemingly normal book about a couple (right?). And I had no reason to expect anything else. Then, instead of suddenly delving into fantasy-land, it just gradually gets weirder and weirder, until you can’t remember it ever being a normal story.

    Am I remembering this right?

    • You are fairly spot on with that. One of the things I said last night at book group that I think is so amazing about Murakami’s mind is that from the simple subject of a married couple and a missing cat Murakami can create something so amazing and so bizarre but still so utterly readable.

  8. This was my first Murakami. i read it years ago and for me it’s still the best one. I never forgot that scene where they skinned a man alive. It’s still one of the most gruesome things I’ve ever read. I also enjoyed Norwegian Wood and Sputnik Sweetheart. I have Kafka on the Shore on my To be read pile.

    • The suddeness of it all made me think of American Psycho. The rest of the book of course is nothing like American Psycho… well its all a bit warped.

      I think Norwegian Wood is going to be the next one I read.

  9. This was my first Murakami and I was left with mixed feelings.

    On the one hand, I liked the atmosphere and the mystery. But I ultimately felt like Murakami just introduced a bunch of stories and left them unfinished. It felt like a sprawling mess.

    • Its interesting you say that as we felt the same in parts and yet we all loved it for that exact reason. I think we all felt life can be just like that and things can’t always be tied up, which can be very irittating but is the way it is.

  10. aartichapati

    I’ve never read Murakami, but I heard I should start with this one, not Kafka on the Shore. Hmm, I like the IDEA of Kafka on the Shore, being a re-write of Oedipus. But this one sounds more interesting to me. Decisions, decisions…

    • I don’t know if I am qualified to say where you should start, I think more of the commenters here know much better than me. I found Kafka easier to digest despite its wonderful bizarreness and so I knew what I was getting into more with this book which helped me personally.

  11. This is going to be my first Murakami when I read it in March with the Japanese Lit Group that Tanabata runs. I’m looking forward to it but maybe I should try and fit Kafka in before then?

  12. I would really strongly recommend the short story collection The Elephant Vanishes. I’ve recommended that book to dozens of people and they all have really loved it and become huge Murakami fans after reading it.

    Oh and I totally agree with you re: talking to people immediately after reading his books. I have a friend who is a Murakami nut like myself and I think I drive him nuts because I’m always sending him emails while reading / immediately after reading any Murakami books.

    • I would like to read his short stories though on of the members of the book group who is a Murakami fan said they didnt really work so well for her. I guess it depends on the stories in the collection, I am still intrigued.

  13. mee

    This is one of my favorite books of all time. I even have 2 copies, both lent out numerous times. I wish I had a book group once I finished it to talk things through. There were a lot of things on the third part that made me go “huh?”. The skinning was definitely very vivid and it seems to be the point that people remember most from the book :).

    • That was what worked so wonderfully with this book and with the book group. I knew a few people I could have talked to about it but when its fresh in your minds it makes for wonderful conversation.

      I actually think this is a great book group read full stop.

  14. mee

    Interestingly I wasn’t fond of Kafka on the Shore. My favorites are The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood. I have Wild Sheep Chase on my shelf, but I think I’d read Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World next, because my friend vouched it as Murakami’s best.

    • Oh that is interesting. I loved Kafka on the Shore so much, but then if we all liked the same books it would be pretty dull and as Murakami says… If you only read what everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking!

  15. Of Murakami I have read only Wind Up Bird, and just like you I felt it was losing towards the end. Maybe I too will take Norwegian Wood. The title from a Beatles’ song makes me curious.

  16. Eva

    I have Kafka on the Shore on my shelf! Must actually read it this year, lol. I read Norwegian Wood back in 2007 and really liked it. 🙂

    • Hoorah its always good to have a Murakami in the TBR, I have just the two fiction and one non fiction to last me the year which now doesnt seem enough.

      I think Kafka is great as it lets you take tentative steps into his more surreal world.

  17. Pingback: Firmin – Sam Savage « Savidge Reads

  18. I’m going through Murakami very slowly. I want his books to last my lifetime. I’ve read Wind-up Bird and Kafka on the shore which are both great. I never try to explain them, I just enjoy them. I read After Dark this year and liked it, though it’s a chamber piece and the other two are operas. Berkeley Rep Theatre did a wonderful stage production of After the Quake a few years ago. If it ever gets produced in the U.K. do see it. Lots of fun.

    • I know exactly what you mean about not explaining them and just enjoying them and there is very much that side of it to them. I just think the brain cannot help try and figure it all out too. Plus when you want everyone to read his work you kind of want to explain it to them but its blinking hard.

      I love the idea fof Murakami on stage, I really hope that does come to the UK at some point.

  19. Terrific review, I have this on my to be read shelf and I cannot wait to dig in. The only other Murakami I read was Hard Boiled Wonderland which I adored but could never fully explain. After reading it all I could think was that it was “Do Not Disturb” reading – I wanted to sit down and not move or stop til the last page has finished.

    • Thanks Joanne. I love the idea of DND books, I think thats brilliant and love it when a book like that comes into your life. It sounds like Hard Boiled Wonderland is a book that I definately need to get my hands on.

  20. “Sometimes confusing but ultimately enthralling.”- Yes, that’s true! That’s how I’d describe Murakami as well 🙂 I avoided the parts of your review where you mentioned the basic plot because I want to be taken completely by surprise when I read this, but I very much agree with your take on Murakami and this review certainly makes me want to read the book now. He really is uniquely brilliant. As for book recommendations, I haven’t read much of his works as well, but I’d recommend After Dark. It’s my introduction to Murakami and I loved it. And my all tine favorite is Norwegian Wood 🙂   

    • Thanks Mrak, I am glad that sentence could sum up such a wonderful crazy and kooky author. I have a copy fo After Dark from the library and will be reading that very, very soon.

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