I have had some brief discussions with a couple of other readers who have read this author, and it has been rather illuminating. I won’t let this colour what I think though as this is my first (authentic) Japanese novel and I want to form my own independent opinion.
Yes, I can tell that the stories are really a series of short stories held together by a tenuous thread, and I did read that the sequence of the stories differs between the original and the English translation. Why would that be? I have no idea, and basically if I am enjoying this novel (which I am) then it doesn’t really matter. Some of the stories work well as stand alone and some require this thread to tie them in. I don’t mind it at all.
The thread that holds this together is Toru’s mundane story of every day life whilst being unemployed, it is the people that he comes into contact with that have the stories to tell; though Toru’s own story is becoming weirder and weirder. This device of stories within a story reminds me very much of The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. The individual stories really stood out, much more than the thread that held them together. At times I was so involved with the story of someone who had a history with the book in question that when it came to an end it was a bit of a jolt – like coming back to reality - I had forgotten that it was part of a larger work. This is exactly how it is with Wind-Up Bird.
Sometimes when I’m getting ready for work (mindlessly blow drying my hair) my mind picks up an unusual thought and runs away with it. Murakami’s stories feel like that to me, he’s run away with some strange thought or situation and is able to turn it into a novel. Some of these have a dreamlike quality to them (I mentioned in my last post that they are hypnotic) – and as I am doing this as an audio book I find that this quality is more intense and I drift away as I listen to a character's monologue. Some of the monologues are…. (I want to say depressing but that’s not the right word)………I don’t know…. dismal maybe or gloomy I guess………but then a phrase will be thrown in which makes you laugh and lightens it up a bit but at the same time it makes the whole scenario seem even more ridiculous or bizarre.
I’ve just listened to the old soldier’s story, which I found particularly haunting. The way he related how he witnessed the flaying of an Army Officer, how he was forced to jump into a dry well as opposed to being shot in the head, and his feelings on how he did not die on that day but how he had been dead ever since…….. it really is wonderful writing.