As you might know, I’m participating in a wonderful readalong of Haruki Murakami hosted by Ti at Book Chatter. This is my wrap-up post for the first book. You can read Ti’s post about it here.
So the first two weeks of April have flown by and we are already done with the first book of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and it’s been a couple of exciting weeks. I didn’t know all that much about the book before I started. Back when I discovered Murakami in 2008, I read that one shouldn’t read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle before one was somewhat well-versed in Murakami’s universe. I’ve read 5 books by Murakami, both non-fiction and fiction, and both realistic and magical realistic fiction. So when I began this readalong, I felt ready for it and wasn’t intimidated at all. I was looking forward to this book!
And now, two weeks in, how am I doing? Well, the book is about the disappearance of a cat. Think of it as chaos theory. When a butterfly flaps it’s wings in one part of the world, there’s a tornado in another. Or something. One small event has unforeseen consequences. And this is what the disappearance of the cat means in this book.
The cat belongs to Kumiko and Toru Okada. It’s hugely important to Kumiko so when it disappears, she asks Toru to look for it 2 – as well as to talk to a woman on the phone. This is the start of a very strange period for Toru. Not only does he meet a rather strange teenage girl while looking for the cat in the neighborhood, but the woman calling him is equally strange.
Toru strikes up a somewhat friendship with the neighborhood girl, May Kasahara, and even helps her with her job of counting bald people. She lives next door to a abandoned house where a lot of cats hang out and she promises to keep an eye out for Toru’s cat.
Kumiko asks Toru to let a woman named Malta Kano help him. Malta has named herself after the island and is a strange woman. She is able to sense the cat and can therefore give clues about it’s whereabouts – or at least about where it’s not. But Malta also allows her sister Creta to help and she comes with a lot of baggage. The two sisters are definitely not your normal set of sisters, well, for a Murakami novel, they fit right in.
The disappeared cat seems to have a huge influence on the relationship between Kumiko and Toru. She works later and later and doesn’t seem happy and they are both keeping secrets. But the relationship seem to have been so strong that both Toru and us as readers feel that it can survive anything. But this is a Murakami novel and cats are always hugely important so we’ll see how it goes.
I am really enjoying this book. The characters feel very Japanese and some of them very Murakami-esque. There are always details in Murakami’s books that show me the difference between Japan and my daily life in Denmark. The ways people act in their working life, the incredible politeness, the stiffness in behavior – all very different from the way we do things in Denmark.
But while I enjoyed it, there was a couple of pages that were in my personal top two of horrific and horrible scenes in literature (the other is from the Stephen King novel Gerald’s Game). It was only a few pages but I had to shut the book several times and breathe and think of something else because it was so difficult to read. I know Murakami can do this – there was a nasty cat torture scene in Kafka on the Shore that probably should be on my top 3 of nastiness but this one was just so awful.
But I made it through it and am very, very excited about how the book will progress. It is Murakami at his finest, I think. So far, my two favorite Murakami novels have been Kafka on the Shore and Norwegian Wood but this one is up there with them. I love it’s strangeness, the dreaminess of it all, where dreams overlap reality in ways so you don’t know which is which. As always, things are told that may be clues and may not be important at all. I think I read somewhere that Murakami makes it all up as he goes along and it definitely feels that way. Like there’s no one who knows where this is actually going, what the importance of the war story is, what is up with the sisters and who the strange woman is who keeps trying to have phone sex with Toru and insists that he knows who she is? But we are in safe hands when it’s Murakami behind the wheel – or at least safe in the sense that he will get us to the finish line, it will be wonderful, magical, disturbing and surreal on the way and we might get hurt, but we’ll get there!