” Everything was intertwined, with the complexity of a three-dimensional puzzle—a puzzle in which truth was not necessarily fact and fact not necessarily truth. ” [3.27.527]
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a puzzle. The many realities and “unrealities” that slip into the narrative demand some rumination of thoughts long after the last page is turned. The meandering novel, probably Murakami’s most ambitious to date, doesn’t seem to offer a clear-cut plot—more a labyrinth with national and historical details. But it does have a story trimmed to the bone: Toru Okada is recently unemployed by choice. His wife Kumiko urges him to consult Malta Kano, a woman with psychic power, for the whereabout of their cat, which has gone missing for over a week. The search for the cat brings Okada into close interaction with his teenage neighbor May and Malta’s sister, Creta, who became a prostitute and was defiled by Okada’s brother-in-law, a rising politician whom Okada deems as the incarnation of evil. Then suddenly, Okada’s wife leaves him for an unknown lover and disappears without a trace.
Down in the pitch blackness at the bottom of the well, though, far removed from reality, the memory came back to life with searing vividness. [2.11.267]
For one hallucinatory moment, I felt I was dreaming. But no, this was the continuation of reality. [2.4.211]
The novel takes a wild turn into the cyberspace, as Okada spends time sitting at the bottom of a well, pondering and searching for personal and universal truths. As he enters a state of consciousness that entails an alternative reality, his perception, and more surrealistically, his identity fuse with what he sees, hears, and feels. His life becomes a hodge-podge of strange things that happen to him. Bits of his life identify with a skein of people whom he meets: the aging lieutenant who witness man skinning during the Japanese campaign in Manchuria, the fashion-snob woman whose father has a scar-face, a psychic prostitute whose experience would mirror that of his wife.
No thinking. You are not allowed to think. You are not allowed to use your imagination. Imagining things here can be fatal. [3.35.584]
I couldn’t help but feel that reality resided for him not so much in the earthly world but in his subterranean labyrinth. [3.19.467]
The novel is a walk around Okada’s brain. The people and incidents he encounters during a disintegrating marriage provoke some dormant, undefinable anxiety that has been the run of his life. Meditation in the well initiates him into some alternative reality in which he is constantly on the edge of discovering why such alternative reality exists. In other words, imagination takes over and becomes his reality. Phantasmagoria of pain and memory come into full play. The return of the prodigal cat is just a minor event that is not suffice to make light of the consequential unease. At the end the truth about his wife just gives one a disturbing view of human nature. Despite it’s being somewhat overwritten, the book is worth the effort put into reading it.
607 pp. Vintage trade paperback. [