Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’ first appeared in an English translation in 1998. The new edition from The Folio Society, which coincides with the book’s 25th anniversary in English, uses the original Jay Rubin translation but it comes with a brand new introduction by the author himself.
This is not The Folio Society’s first foray into the world of Murakami. Some of his most celebrated works have already been published for their catalogue, comprising ‘Kafka on the Shore’ in 2021 and ‘Norwegian Wood’ in 2022. ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’ represents the third title in the range, adding perhaps the author’s most well-known and celebrated work. Stylistically, the three novels have been produced in similar ways, including retaining Columbian artist Daniel Liévano as the illustrator for all three. This approach ensures that the titles look aesthetically sublime on your bookcase.
Often considered Murakami’s magnum opus, ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’ finds the author in a rich vein of form. The novel is full of his trademark stylistic literary techniques. The mundane, ordinary world of failing marriages, missing pets and unemployment are combined with the magical and the surreal. The author guides the reader through a labyrinthine story populated with weird and wonderful characters.
The hero is Toru Okada, a man approaching early middle-age. Love is disappearing from his marriage at the same time as his cat (bizarrely named after his wife’s brother, whom Toru despises) has gone missing. Kumiko, his wife, suggests he use his time to find the cat, since Toru has jacked in his job as a lawyer’s assistant and has little to occupy himself. At night, searching for his cat, Toru meets teenager May Kasahara. She introduces him to an abandoned house that contains a deep, dry well that she sometimes sits in. The house, and the well contained within it, prove to be a safe space for Toru as well as a portal to his past. His destiny becomes inextricably linked to it.
Typically, for a Murakami novel, a neat synopsis is a tricky task to pull off. The inciting incident – the hunt for the missing cat – proves not to be integral to the book at all. Toru’s problems really start when Kumiko leaves him and disappears without trace a third of the way through. Throughout the non-linear plot, Toru has plenty of interesting experiences and meets all kinds of intriguing people from a would-be clairvoyant to a World War Two veteran who is full of stories about the conflict he saw. Few of these encounters logically connect different strands of the story. Rather, Murakami’s style is to meander through dream-like sequences, creating and maintaining atmosphere, which becomes more important than the events of the story. Throughout it, there is but a tenuous connection to reality.
Regularly considered one of the most significant living authors, Haruki Murakami is an author of international significance and acclaim whose works continue to demand attention and accrue loyal readers. There’s no doubt that ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’ finds at writer at the height of his powers. For a relatively long book, the prose is counterintuitively fresh and tight.
How engrossed the reader becomes in the story will be a matter of taste. As a reader who tends to favour books with a strong protagonist and plot, ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’ didn’t grab me with any sense of urgency. Toru Okada is, in common with other Murakami heroes, ineffectual. I find it hard to warm to a drifter. Neither he nor his promiscuous wife Kumiko is especially sympathetic. A few elements date the book. One is the transcription of the conversation that estranged husband and wife conduct over the internet using a chat function. It would have been cutting edge when the book was published, but as always, rapidly-developing technology roots the book within a five-year window. The other aspect is the somewhat gratuitous descriptions of Toru’s sexual experiences. Perhaps, in Japanese society at the tail end of the Twentieth Century, such descriptions may have been groundbreaking and liberating. In today’s more sensitive and reserved times, they feel too on the nose.
Despite a few reservations that stem from personal preference, I enjoyed experiencing ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’ as a book that led me far from my comfort zone. The story is full of nuance and clever, intriguing ideas. It is a fine literary achievement that, especially for those who can orient themselves within Murakami’s chaotic realm of the imagination, rewards a close reading. Its power is in the story’s ability to keep re-inventing itself. Yet the third part ties up loose ends and satisfies readers – even if you’ve meandered so far off the beaten path you’ve forgotten where you started!
This luxurious hardback edition of Haruki Murakami’s ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’ bound in blocked cloth is available exclusively from The Folio Society. It features single or double-page full-colour illustrations by Daniel Liévano that bring the text to life, and an introduction by the author himself.
Publisher: The Folio Society Publication date: 12th September 2023 Buy ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’