They say Murakami has a thing for cats.
This seems just to be true given the fact that in Kafka on the Shore, cats are talking to people like the cat-finder Nakamura and in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle a lost cat is the trigger for the entire action to unwind. First-person narrator Toru and Kumiko Okada are married and they are living a quiet life with their cat Noboru Wataya, who is named after Kumiko’s shady elder brother. Toru has given up his former job with a law firm lately, trying to figure out what to do with his further life. One day the cat disappears and it is especially Kumiko who is very upset about it. She urges her husband to search and find him. Toru’s investigations lead him to an alley behind their house where stray cats are said to appear. His search also introduces him to a mysterious woman named Malta Kano who contacts Toru and says she might have some information about their cat. But then, all at once, it isn’t only the cat who stays away but Kumiko doesn’t come back home from work either.
The reasons for his wife’s (and cat’s) disapperance are left in the dark for a long time but slowly, step by step, Toru advances in figuring out what the whole story is about. It leads him back into Kumiko’s painful past and also back to things that happened when they were already married. Things that were never spoken about.
Reading The Wind-up Bird Chronicle was a similar experience as reading Kafka on the Shore. I was completely entranced by Murakami’s writing again. I am not able to explain exactly why his stories produce such a pull, they simply do. I literally couldn’t stop reading. Each little interruption was unnerving. After finishing the book, its story stayed with me for a long time afterwards, also as in Kafka on the Shore. It probably is the mix of reality and the surreal quality in Murakami’s narrating that does the trick.
My date was a nice enough guy, a college student, but I don’t know, I still can’t really get a clear sense of all kinds of things. It’s as if they’re out there, far away, lined up like dolls in a shooting gallery, and all these transparent curtains are hanging down between me and the dolls.
(The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, 376)
A highlight for me were the first-person narrator’s encounters with May Kasahara. When she meets him for the first time, May asks him whether he has a nickname or not. Toru says he hasn’t got one but eventually comes up with ‚Wind-up Bird‘. It is the name Toru calls a bird that he hears outside his house. This bird makes a sound like some wind-up mechanism. He imagines the bird winds up the world’s spring. (What a beautiful image!) I liked May Kasahara a lot, she is funny, ironic and cheeky, has a sharp wit and is very reflective. Being sixteen when she meets Mr Wind-up Bird, she is the one who opens his eyes in many ways. Once she asks him if he didn’t believe that there were too many mysterious women in his life for Kumiko to feel safe. Funnily she is one of them, though. But she tries to answer questions, at least gives them much thought instead of others like Malta and Creta Kano who pile up even more.
I loved the protagonist’s reflections about what happens with us in our lives and also that he seems absolutely unprejudiced about anything. Toru thinks anything through first and asks himself what he really feels in a situation. Am I mad about it? Or am I confused or am I anything else? I like his way of getting down to the bottom of things first, before making up his mind about them. I can only speak for myself, but I guess this is something that rather less often happens in „real life“ as we go through it with all kinds of preconceptions in our heads how to react if this or that happens.
My reality seemeed to have left me and was now wandering around nearby. I hope it can find me, I thought. […] My reality was still having trouble locating me, it seemed.
(The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, 382f.)
Murakami’s mastership in taking up threads of the story and doing variations of a specific theme or motif in another strand of the plot is stunning. It reminds me of classical music when variations of a specific theme are carried out (as in Bach’s Goldberg Variations). In The Wind-up Bird Chronicle you have the motif of the blue-black mark which suddenly appears on Toru’s cheek during his search or quest. It occurs again in the story of the veterinarian in the zoo, when in World War II all the dangerous animals were being shot in order to avoid a panic if the zoo’s supply broke down. This vet has a mark exactly like the one Toru has. There are many of these little details which run through the story and are taken up in different scenes of the book. It leaves you trying to figure out what the author intends to make clear with them. It is really difficult to describe what Murakami’s books are about because if you started listing all the manifold themes of this one for example, the only reaction you would probably get is „Oh yes sure, that sounds just a little too weird for my taste!“ There is so much beside the actual plotline which makes Murakami’s novels so diverse and complex. It is a riddle why the „weirdness-factor“ of them makes you want to read the books even more instead of being frightened away. In my eyes The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is lovely, for me it is pure poetry.
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (Vintage, 2003)