08 April 2007

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle บันทึกนกไขลาน

At last I finished reading Murakami Haruki's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the Thai version of which has seven hundred and nineteen pages. Normally methink I'm a quick reader, but in this case I couldn't help reading this in a snail's pace. Part of the reason is that I have been so busy (of course) juggling various stuff -- supervising theses, marking term papers, attending a funeral, and getting back on my Garcia Marquez's research. No stress though, which is good.

In general, I find this novel very entertaining and I got hooked towards the end of it, partly because it's written in the style of detective fiction. The usual signature motifs of Murakami -- parallel universes, the double, incest, etc. -- are here and I must say it's a pretty thought-provoking book, with a lot of issues being touched, from urban alienation to fatalism. Compared to other works of his such as Kafka on the Shore, Norwegian Woods, and South of Border, West of Sun, I think this one has a lot more to offer and of course it helps establishing Murakami once and for all as a serious writer whose work has become at last a force to reckon with in contemporary Japanese literature.

The main plot is about how the search by the protagonist, Toru Okada, of his lost cat turns into an adventure into his own self and that of Kumiko Okada, his estranged wife. The journey leads him to a series of encounters with rather eccentric characters, such as Molly Kano and Creta Kano, the two sisters who agree to help him find the cat, and May Kasahara, a teenager who decides to leave school and stay at home.

It's quite difficult, if not impossible, to write a proper analysis of the whole book, given its sheer size. So I'd better limit myself to some interesting thoughts.

What I like about Murakami's work is its open-ended structure and slippery causal relation. It sometimes appears very hard to pin down who does what in his novel, part of his intention to interrogate our traditional concept of stabilised identity. Thus, it is no wonder why sometimes reading his book is a frustrating experience -- May Kasahara can be Kumiko Okada, or a mysterious woman on the phone at the beginning of the novel can also be Kumiko Okada too.

I particularly like the character of Cinnemon Akasaka, with his extreme tidiness and punctuality. He's almost like a machine, especially with his reticence and efficiency. He's the example of how urban alienation can turn one into a recluse, but a lovely one at that.

I also like its tone of detective fiction, especially the fact that Toru needs to find out who's the mastermind behind all this, who 'dehumanises' his wife and other female characters. I guess it's pretty obvious for those observant readers, but Murakami makes it more complicated by making Toru enter a possible world to find the culprit, thereby playing upon the idea that the whole scene may simply be the act of his mind -- the shadow play of his imagination. But for Murakami, what happens in the realm of imagination does have an impact on the real world, so the borders between the subjective and the objective become fussy.

One of the most memorable scenes is Toru's session in the deep well, shutting himself out from the world around him. Only darkness and nothing else. Even his own feeling of his body is alienating and disconcerting. This estrangement is closely related to the urban space of contemporary Japan. Besides Toru, almost all characters in this novel are alienated and try to find a way out from this labyrinth of angst and loneliness. With some sections of the novel set during the Second World War, such urban alienation is pitted against its similar feeling generated by war, when soldiers (no matter whether they're Japanese, Chinese, Russian, etc.) were asked to do some senseless stuff, such as killing animals in a zoo, protecting the secret at the expense of their life, and killing a hostage with a baseball bat. Such parallelism between the city and the war in engendering the feeling of angst and estrangement is distinctive and very powerfully crafted.

If there's a shortcoming, I think it's in the characterisation of Molly and Creta Kano, who seem to disappear towards the end of the novel. Their roles seem to serve some specific purposes at the beginning but towards the end they become a bit superfluous while other characters fit in the whole narrative pretty well.

All in all, a very good novel and perhaps one of the best contemporary Japanese novels.

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