Friday, November 16, 2012

Review - The Wind-up Bird Chronicles

Review of “The Wind-up Bird Chronicles”, by Haruki Murakami

Murakami seems to be a very popular author with women on the dating websites, at least with the women who interest me. As preparation for the battle between the sexes, I wanted to read what they are reading. I could have armed myself by reading “Think like a man, act like a woman”, but while the movie was funny, I don't know if it was particularly edifying and none of the other BASPs with whom I watched it found it worth commenting on afterwards. Besides, having been a full-time male mom for 8 years, I'd already thought like a man and acted like a woman, and well, here I am.

So Murakami it is. Now, if you want a regular old book review, look for one on the web.

A few lines I wish I would have written: “Which is not to say that I didn't have any distinguishing characteristics. I owned a signed copy of Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain. I had a slow resting pulse rate: forty-seven normally and no higher than seventy with a high fever. I was out of work. I knew the names of all the brothers Karamazov. But none of these distinguishing characteristics was external.”

Now for the feelings the book aroused in me: mostly it left me very disturbed, there is palpable occult-like evil, but it is so unexplained and unmotivated, and only tangentially personified, that I could never really grasp what it was. This is mostly carried out against women, and the violations are mostly more mental than physical. There is gristly, bloody, gruesome, slow, pit of the stomach violence and detailed empathetic pain. This is mostly against men. The scenes seem gratuitous, except as mysterious and near mythical events in the past that explain future senses of deep connection. The women survive, the men don't.

I suspect that one of the reasons women like this book is because it is a singular example of a book with anticipated, prolonged, detailed descriptions of infernal physical violence on men and of violations of males bodies on a mass scale. Does it make women who like this book man-haters? Perhaps, but only in the sense that men who like Paul Auster's “The Book of Illusions” (in which 8 women are gratuitously and violently killed off) or indeed who like any of the numerous books and movies in which gratuitous or non-gratuitous violence against women is lovingly portrayed, are woman-haters.

As the accompanying diagram shows, the book has numerous loose ends, vestigial characters with no development that play a repeating, non-minor role but remain completely disconnected from any other character other than the protagonist. I was never even able to understand whether they were the shades of some other characters. These are the dangling characters in the diagram. They seem superfluous in the sense that the book would not have been essentially different without them.

Now for the diagram. It is a map of the main characters, a few key non-human objects and their interconnectedness. I had hoped that drawing it would show me the center, and was motivated to draw it when the protagonist sketches out some of the interconnections (as a circle) and wonders what is at the center. However, circles needn't have centers in the space they belong to: while the rim of a flat dish has a center, what is the center of the rim of your coffee cup? Or the center of a circular orbit around a black hole? And indeed, I haven't found any obvious center in the Wind-Up bird network.

In the diagram, green characters are founts of positive energy, red characters of evil. Green arrows indicate positive, life-enhancing acts, passive or active. Red arrows indicate life-draining actions. Light blue characters are carriers of energy of undefined sign. However, almost all the characters are in some way contaminated by this “energy”, whether positive or negative, except for May, who in the end seems the most real of all the characters.

Other comments or unanswered questions:
  1. Nutmeg's father has a blue stain of the same shape and color on his cheek that Mr. Wind-Up Bird acquires and loses. But there is no other connection: the former is a birthmark and brings no special powers or heat, the latter is acquired on a parallel world excursion, is connected with and is a source of this mysterious energy and is lost towards the end of the narrative.
  2. What happens to Noboru Wataya the cat, and what is his connection to Malta Kano, if any? What is the significance of his tail and whether it has the same bend or not as before?
  3. Why is the wind-up bird audible only to males? Is there any associated mythology with this ill-omen?
  4. WTF with the connection between Lt. Mamiya and Creta? This is an instance of the author getting tired of writing the book towards the end, and puts these two unrelated characters together to tie up two ends.

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