Loads of Learned Lumber

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Haruki Murakami, _The WInd-Up Bird Chronicle_

A FAVORITE OF my sister, who gave me this for Christmas in 2006. As it is a novel of somewhat daunting length, over 600 pages, I was slow to pick it up, but along about Christmas 2008, I thought it was high time to get to it. I have been reading away at it regularly but not continually for just over half a year, and now have finished. So...what do I think. Hmm.

It was fun to read, certainly. A noir-ish plot -- first person narrator's wife disappears suddenly, possibly having run off with another man out of her frustration with narrator's joblessness and general lack of initiative, but he suspects foul play. Her brother is a media star about to launch a political career, she possibly knows something that would derail his ambitions...the plot thickens. Then the plot aetherealizes when narrator consults psychics and finds himself having a series of supernatural/paranormal experiences. Several characters turn out to have links to Japanese occupation of, oppression of, and eventual expulsion from Manchuria in the 1930s and 1940s -- this repression of traumatic truth is analogous to and possibly interwoven with whatever the narrator's ambitious and ruthless brother-in-law is trying to hide. All this is wrapped enough local Tokyo detail to satisfy Emile Zola.

It's more than enough to keep one reading. But Murakami has been so highly praised that the question becomes whether one thinks his work is "great" or not, Nobel-worthy or not, and so on. So, is it great? Maybe.

I've heard Murakami compared unfavorably to Kobo Abe, as doing much the same sort of thing his predecessor did, but not as well. Murakami's narrator does have the dislocated, alienated relationship to his world that some of Abe's characters have, but without their angst-y, existentialista aura, as if they might suddenly lurch and find themselves in an Antonioni film. Murakami's narrator's edges have been worn smooth by global consumer culture, and he has the equanimity of people who don't entirely grasp the depth of their predicament. But is that a fault? Such characters seem as true to Murakami's moment as Abe's did to his.

What the heck, I'll read a couple more and see what I think.

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