Toru Okada loses his cat… and then he loses his wife. Down on his luck he begins looking for answers in the strangest places and receives help from an eclectic collections of people. This is my first time reading Murakami and I have heard that he isn’t for everyone. I’m not sure if it is just this novel or if I would get this feeling from all of his work, but the best way I can describe how reading this feels is that it is like listening to music in another language. I don’t always understand everything that is said, but the feeling and sound of the words are beautiful.
There is so much and so little going on at once in the novel. I would call this a slow read. It is a bit of a mystery, but it isn’t a gripping or page turning one. Toru Okada is a very ordinary man. He is the definition of average, but suddenly his normal problems, like a missing cat, turn into so much more. I am reminded of an adult Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland because everyone is certainly mad here. The plot twists and turns and often doesn’t bother to explain itself or even connect to the main path of the story. I would definitely call the plot very open. Very few points are wrapped up neatly by the end and if that kind of writing bothers you I would stay clear of this one of Marukami’s novels at least.
I feel like this book is best read slowly or, even better, read with other people. It is a lengthy book (607 pages in paperback with tiny print) and a lot goes on within it. There are themes of identity, change, and relationships with a heavy dose of magical realism. There is also a large assortment of recurring imagery that adds meaning and beauty to every page. Birds, water, and the struggle of light/dark crop up everywhere and their disappearance or reappearance takes on different meanings. If I studied this novel in class or read it for a book club I feel like I could have grasped more of the meaning. It would have been nice to have other minds to bounce things off of, but at least I have the internet for that!
In terms of how I usually judge books on here- I’ve already given my thoughts on the meandering plot, but the characters are also very unique. Characters are often given whole chapters of backstory only to never crop up again or disappear entirely later which could be frustrating to some readers. I enjoyed learning about the lives of the characters though. I also enjoyed all the little movements that Murakami details when he writes his characters. For instance how they answer questions or the tiny movements of their face or hands. It makes me feel like I’m sitting across from a character and watching them as they talk and noticing little things they do unconsciously.
I enjoyed the book, but I’m sure many readers wouldn’t be a fan. It is an experience to read a book like this. It is less about the plot and tying up lose ends and more about the journey. In that way it is a lot like life. Sometimes we never get the answers to some questions and we just have to live with it. Somehow Murakami gives a very honest and realistic portrayal of life with a novel that is rooted firmly in fantasy.