The Wind Up Bird Chronicle
by Haruki Murakami
translated by Jay Rubin
published by Vintage Books, New York
This is an imaginative novel that somehow weaves its story within contemporary suburban Japan, historical occupied Manchuria, and an supernatural parallel space filled with danger.
Toru Okada is an ordinary man, who left his law office job to find something more satisfying while his wife’s job pays the bills. During his time of reflection, his cat disappears; then his wife starts working very peculiar hours, and stops coming home altogether. That’s when strangers begin to reach out to him with cryptic warnings about the flow of water, he hears rumors of a cursed neighborhood home, and the malevolence of his in-laws appears to take on a supernatural force.
This is not the sort of Isekai story that I’ve written about in the past: instead of the ordinary Japanese protagonist falling into another world, the ordinary world is instead revealed to be much stranger than the protagonist had noticed.
Odd characters, almost all of them women, interact with Okada in emotionally supportive and/or physically intimate ways as he navigates the altered reality that is gradually revealed to him.
(Okada seems especially comfortable when women of any age are with him, even without knowing their real names (!), who they are working for, or much about their motivations. This gives me some ideas of why his marriage didn’t succeed (other plot events notwithstanding), but this combination of being easygoing and oblivious is entirely plausible for the character.)
The author of this book provides a classical soundtrack for the chapters, which matches Okada’s musical tastes: you can access this musical guide on his website (harukimurakami.com).
This is surely the least predictable novel I’ve read in years. While the protagonist seems so ordinary, the story that unfolds around and through him and his supporting characters is engaging, suspenseful, atmospheric (the humidity of summer rains or chill coldness of being underground are so well described), and is engrossing. This is my first Murakami novel, but won’t be my last.