Critics have compared WIND UP to the works of Pynchon, but it’s far more accessible than, say, GRAVITY’S RAINBOW. A better comparison, in terms of narrative conventionality and style, would be Tom Wolfe’s THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES. Or, if we’re going to go 19th century on this thing, something like ANNA KARENINA.
There’s plenty of buzz these days about Haruki Murakami‘s new novel 1Q84, scheduled for release on October 25, 2011. With much curiosity about one of Japan’s greatest living novelists, the Literary Man recently took down THE WIND UP BIRD CHRONICLE in order to knowledgeably converse about Murakami’s merits as an author.
The narrative kicks off when a thirty-year old man named Toru Okada receives a mysterious phone call from an unnamed woman. The caller tries to coax Toru into phone sex, which triggers a host of unusual events in Toru’s life. His cat disappears, he meets an improbable variety of attractive women who, from reasons unbeknownst to the reader, are drawn to him. His wife disappears, having possibly left Toru for another man. Toru meets an aged veteran from Japan’s WWII military campaign in China (the novel’s most fascinating narrative), and, eventually, Toru develops an abnormal obsession with wells. Yes, wells. As in, cylindrical subterranean tubes typically used for collecting and disseminating water. One thing is certain: this is the best novel about wells that the Literary Man has ever read.
The prose is pedestrian, though this might be due to translation. The story is compelling, replete with narrative, and never lacking in the satisfaction of finding out “what happens next.” With no knowledge whatsoever, of contemporary Japanese society, the Literary Man felt that THE WIND UP BIRD CHRONICLE aptly documents the zeitgeist (presumably) of Tokyo’s urbane, capitalistic culture in the mid- to late 1980s. Formally, the novel is narrated by Toru Okada, though there are a few deviations into the third-person (artistic missteps, in the Literary Man’s opinion). The novel is sexy, though very little “sex” actually takes place within the pages; Toru has several “nocturnal emissions” that result from his interactions with the different female protagonists in this story, but ultimately the novel is about his love for his wife, to whom he remains emotionally faithful in spite of the different conflicts he faces. All in all, this is very much a moving, compassionate, metaphysical love story.
All in all, this was a satisfying, if lengthy, read, and the Literary Man recommends it without hesitation.
Result: Literary Two Thumbs-Up.