1990s Books in Translation Chunkster

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

Translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin

I have enjoyed many Murakami books in the past, but for some reason I’d avoiding reading this, often described as his most famous book. I felt as though I was saving it as a special treat and built up my expectations accordingly. Unfortunately it was nothing like I expected it to be, and in the end I was quite disappointed by it.

The first half of the book was fantastic. I think the word ‘mesmorised’ is the only way I can describe it. I was glued to every word, unable to read quickly, savouring the simple story of a man struggling to find satisfaction in his life. The central character, Toru, has quit his job and so is spending much of his time alone. He starts to receive strange phone calls, his cat disappears and he is then visited by a series of fabulous characters. The stories told by each of these visitors were fantastic. I was particularly gripped by the story of the soldier and his journey into enemy territory. The story of his capture and torture was a bit gruesome in places, but it was so powerful that I think I’ll always remember it.

In the second half of the book it started to go weird, but (and this might sound strange) it wasn’t weird enough for me. It was teetering on the fine line between reality and the bizarre, but didn’t cross it. I felt that the surreal twist in the story was unnecessary and that the book would have benefited from being grounded in reality. The perfectly constructed stories of the first half were ruined by the ambiguous and unrealistic occurrences at the end. The characters introduced later in the book (Cinnamon, Nutmeg etc) failed to engage me and I don’t think I really understood their presence in the novel.

The ending was even more disappointing. The book just seemed to peter out, leaving almost all the ends untied. I was left feeling frustrated and confused, with more questions than answers. The last third of the book really dragged as there was no forward momentum and I felt as though I was wading through random, meaningless paragraphs.

Overall I’m afraid that there were too many negatives for me to be able to recommend this book. If you’re after a fantastic Murakami then I suggest you try Kafka on the Shore.


Did you enjoy The Wind-up Bird Chronicle?

What did you think of the ending?

Have you thought about sitting in the bottom of a well?!

Why did Murakami write this book? Can you see a point to it?

51 replies on “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami”

I thought the same as you. I absolutely enjoyed the first half, then it started going downhill the second half. The last third was rather meaningless and there were too many ends untied. I was frustrated with so many questions at the end too. But I still think that the first half made up for the second half, because it was THAT good.

Interestingly, I was less fond of Kafka on the Shore. It felt like experimental writing where Murakami just kept throwing random elements in.

mee, I found it hard to rate this book as the first half was so fantastic, but in the end I decided that I’d never encourage anyone to read this book, so I have to rate it 3.5 stars. (4 stars means I recommend it) I’d probably rate the first half 5 stars and the second half 2 stars, so I think on avearge 3.5 stars is about right too!

Sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy Kafka – I thought it was fantastic from beginning to end – one of my all time favourites.

At least Murakami always produces books that are interesting to talk about!

Jackie, I wish you had been able to discuss this in person with us as we raised some of the same points.

Out of interest, was Kafka on the Shore your first Murakami novel? I have a theory…

I did enjoy The Wind-up Bird Chronicle first time around but didn’t manage a reread for book group. It was my first Murakami and unlike anything I had read before; his writing is completely bizarre and I don’t think those threads are supposed to be tied up. Seeing as I didn’t reread it, I can’t tell you what I thought of the ending because I can’t remember it! Obviously it didn’t leave an overall impression itself.

Yes, I have considered sitting at the bottom of a well. We likened being at the bottom of the well to depression/as a means of escape. Sometimes I want to go somewhere quiet, where I can just shut off and be.

Claire, I know it is such a shame I wasn’t there as I wanted to discuss this book more than any of the previous ones.

Yes – Kafka on the Shore was my first Murakami, but I felt that had a plot all the way thorugh and the weirdness was different enough to justify it being there. I would say the first half of WUBC was better than Kafka, but then it went downhill so rapidly. I’m not sure what I’d have made of it if I’d read them the other way round, but it would be interestting to re-read Kafka at some point and see if I still love it so much.

I loved the descriptions of being down a well. It made me want to try it, but it also sounded quite dangerous, so I think I’ll avoid it!

My theory (which could easily be disproved in your comments) is that we Murakami fans all love our first Murakami whether it be Kafka or TWUBC or Sputnik because it is so different; rereading would make an interesting experiment and the discussion at book group made me wish that I had had the time to reread it to know whether I felt the same.

Interesting theory. My order of reading was Norwegian Wood, The Wind-up Bird, Sputnik, and Kafka. The order of my favorite is the same as the order of my reading! *panicking for 2 seconds* Well, I’ll read another of his this year and we’ll see. Hope the theory is not right. I know a lot of people who liked all (if not most) of his books.

I was just about to ask whether you’d suggest Kafta on the Shore for a first time Murakami reader, but you answered that question in the the comment section. I’ve been meaning to add a Murakami novel to my TBR list but I had no idea where to start.

Ruth, I would recommend Kafka, as I loved it. WUBC is very long for a first try, but it is up to you. Claire suggests that you’ll love whichever one you try first, so you could test her theory and go for the first one you find!

Damned Conjuror, It sounds as though Murakami isn’t for you. Norwegian Wood is quite normal, so if you didn’t enjoy that then I don’t think it is worth you trying him again. Sorry you aren’t charmed by his magic.

anothercookiecrumbles, I’m really looking forward to seeing what you make of Murakami. I’m sure you’ll love the first half of this, but am intrigued to knwo your thoughts on the weirdness of this and Kafka. I hope you get to one of them soon.

I have both Kafka and Wind-Up Bird on my shelves. I will try Kafka first, but I keep thinking about the fact that my sister listed Wind-Up Bird as one of her all time top 10. I’ll probably get to both of them this year. Sorry you didn’t like this, but from what I’ve been told, Murakami is a hit or miss thing.

Sandy, Was WUBC the first Murakami your sister read? Kafka is in my all time top 10, so I’m wondering if Claire’s theory is correct. Do you love the first Murakami you read, but then need more than weirdness to keep you interested in the second one you read? I’m looking forward to your thoughts on them and hope that you enjoy them.

WUBC was my first (and only so far) Murakami. I’ll have to try Kafta to test out Claire’s theory! I enjoyed the WUBC – parts were brilliant, but ultimately it was slightly disappointing overall, primarily as Toru was such an empty shell and he was hard to engage with.

Annabel, It is interesting that you found Toru hard to engage with as I really empathised with him – especially in the beginning.

I think you must have enjoyed it a bit more than me, but to prove Claire’s theory you were supposed to love your first Murakami. It will be interesting to see what you think of Kafka. If you like it more then Claire’s theory won’t be looking good!

I loved this book. It’s too bad you didn’t enjoy it as much as I did, but then again, maybe you’re right, the second half of the book did seem to spiral into this weird, dare I say, well of I-don’t-really-know-what’s-happening.

Like you also, I felt that the ending gave me more questions than answers. But then again, that’s what I’ve come to like about reading a Murakami, and to be honest, I quite liked sitting at a corner for a little while, just to think about the whole book again.

Michelle, Perhaps I will enjoy this book more after having a few months to think about it. I also didn’t really understand what was happening in some of the later sections. Perhaps Murakami is just too clever for me!

Jennifer, It will be interesting to see what you think of Murakami – he does seem to divide people. I think you’ll find that the more you read book blogs, the longer your TBR list – mine is getting bigger every day!

Such a shame that you werent at book group as it sounds like (as Claire said) we were all on quite a wavelength with this book, especially the third half though I still think ots a master piece in general.

I am definately also a bigger fan of Kafka and as Claire pointed out it was my first and remains my favourite, we will see if a third changes that in a few weeks!

Simon, It is such a shame that I couldn’t make it. I’d have loved to know your thoughts on what the last third meant. This is my 4th Murakami and I do seem to be liking them less as I read more.

I’ve wanted to read Murakami for a while, but I always had a hard time finding his books at the used bookstore. A few trips back I found Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and so I bought that one… I’d always been really intrigued by this one, so I’m sorry to hear it didn’t live up to your prior Murakami experiences. But perhaps it’s for the best that I didn’t wind up getting this one instead!

Steph, Murakami is very hard to find second hand. I have managed to get 3, but have been searching for 4 years, very frequently, as I do it for my job as well. I haven’t read Hard-Boiled Wonderland, so look forward to your thoughts on it. I hope you enjoy it!

Oh Jackie…sorry this book seemed to disappoint a bit. I do plan to read more books by this author in 2010 and this may be one of them. I’ll let you know what I think.

Rebecca, He writes some weird things, so I’d love to know what you think of him. I have a feeling that you might not like it, but I’d love you to prove me wrong!

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Murakami. Norwegian Wood actually left me a little cold- a bit bleak for my tastes I suppose, but I much preferred Dance, Dance, Dance. I’d have given this one a go but as I’m not so sure I will now- it sounds like I might struggle though it a bit. Such a shame too, when a book starts off so well and leaves you disappointed in the end.

Literary Kitty, Norwegian Wood left me a bit cold too. I appreciated the writing quality, but it was a bit depressing. I haven’t read Dance yet, but hope to read it in the next few months. I hope I enjoy it more than this one.

I am so glad I found this blog as I just finished reading the Wind-up bird chronicle last night and am left with so much confusion. It’s so good to see I wasn’t the only person who felt that the first half was amazing but the second half really reached a different level of puzzlement. I believe it was after the introduction of Nutmeg’s character I lost all interest in reading, and to be honest the last 200 pages I briefly skipped over as I had no interest in knowing every little detail of the ending. And now after doing some research on the internet I have found that there is no real conclusion and the reader is left with even more questions. I did however love the surrealism of Murakami’s writing and love the metaphor he uses for the well. And has definitely thought about sitting at the bottom of a well. As one of the books character roughly quotes “when your feeling good, find the highest mountain and climb to the top, and when your feeling down climb down the deepest well”.

Nick, It sounds as though we lost interest at a similar place. Perhaps this is one of those books that you grow to appreciate more with a little time to reflect on it.

I also love the quote that you highlighted – I have climbed to the top of lots of mountains, but I think I’m missing out on my well quota – that is why it intrigues me so much!

Murakami is a fantastic writer – this won’t put me off reading the rest of his books. I hope that you decide to read a few more too. Was this your first?

Yes this is the first and only one of his books I have read. I have spoken to quite a few people who have read several of his book and apparently The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is his best work.

I read this book this past summer and, for my first time reading Murakami, I was pretty disappointed too. I completely relate with what you said, “It was teetering on the fine line between reality and the bizarre, but didn’t cross it.” I like weird stuff, but a dissociative guy who likes sitting at the bottom of the well wasn’t enough for me, and I felt that his actions didn’t always have enough motivation behind them. Why not just ignore all the crazy stuff and work on having a real relationship with your wife? It just didn’t seem crazy enough for him to go off wandering, and I never felt like I had that proper buildup to something….CRAZY.

Also, I kept expecting this collision between the real world and that dream world, and it didn’t feel collisiony enough. I won’t give up on murakami yet though…..suppose i might as well try dear kafka on the shore….

SusanaMai, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time! I agree – any normal person would have tried to get their wife back instead of sitting in a well and talking to crazy people! It made no sense to me.

I think you’ll enjoy Kafka more – well I did anyway!

This is one Murakami book which I haven’t got around to reading it yet… I think I’m in no hurry of reading this book after reading your review. Now I need to put Kafka on the Shore on my to-be-read list. 😉

This was the first Murakami book I read and I quite liked it. That rots that it was a disappointment for you, especially since you were saving it up to read – bummer! I can kind of understand what you mean, because towards the end the book does get a bit odd, but I just chalked it up to being Murakami’s style. Anyhow, I have read some of his other books and have loved each one of them, until After Dark – which upon finishing it I completely hated that book. However, after discussing the book with a friend I began to remember things and connect themes in a way I hadn’t when I first read it and now I can say that I truly do think After Dark is another great Murakami book. Sometimes a little distance from the book helps. Of course, sometimes a book is just not up to par. Different strokes, right? Well, I’ll definitely be putting Kafka on my TBR list. Cheers!

Nadia, I know what you mean about having to think about some of his books to appreciate them. I’m thinking that I may like this book a lot more in a few months time, once I’ve forgotten about the weirdness a bit. I hope you enjoy Kafka!

I may have mentioned this before, but I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in hospital suffering from acute pancreatitis. After the pain wore off it was just endless days spent laying in my hospital bed with no food, waiting for my surgery and I needed a nice chunky, readable book to help me occupy my time. So I loved it for more than just Murakami’s wonderful writing style and quirky characters but also for the company it gave me.

Michelle, This must be the perfect book for a time in hospital – I can imagine the lack of food made you appreciate some of the sections even more and perhaps the pain relief made the last half make more sense?! I’m pleased to hear how important this book was to you.

Hi Jackie, I’m still trying to finish it for the JRC3, but your review seems to make sense to me.. I’m not finding it weird enough to keep going. It’s like Murakami lost the plot and now he’s just dragging out some new storyline. I want to finish it because I really did like the first 2/3rds of the novel…. I hold out hope I will find the interest to get to the end soon.

Tamara, you could always do what I did and skim through the last 150 pages. However do not expect that the book will have a solid conclusion where loose ends are tied.

Tamara, you could always do what I did and skim through the last 150 pages. However do not expect that the book will have a solid conclusion where loose ends are tied.

I felt exactly the same way about WUBC… stunning first half with “prostitutes of the mind” Malta Kano and her sister Kreta Kano… but somehow the longer the book went on – pretty much most of book 3 (where the wife leaves him (draws parallels to norwegian wood)) Toru becomes completely disinterested and it reflects back on the reader… the mini story about the zoo was not as interesting as the map maker story.

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