The first time I see The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle? I am working at the Australian Film Commission and the book is sitting on a cabinet above a colleague’s desk. It is there for months. I ask her about it and she says, ‘I have to read it for uni.’ I don’t know if she ever gets through it. It is the size of a brick. But whenever I walk past, I am intrigued by the cover: a surreal long corridor with doors going off it, dismembered legs sticking out, a man with a gun, and a moon-face with four eyes peering at me. The elements are strange and don’t seem to fit together. The title, too, is mysterious. I wonder about the wind-up bird. What is its story? I ask my friend if I can borrow it …
I am commuting to Sydney from Springwood in the Blue Mountains. It is a two-hour trip each way. The only positive is that I get to read (and take notes on other passengers for my fiction). Murakami’s style is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The cover represents him well. The protagonist Toru Okada is soft, passive, elusive; he lets the narrative wash over him and buffet him like the wind. As a reader, I never know where I am heading or when I will wake up. The boundaries between reality and dreams are blurred. A cat disappears. Then his wife leaves too. A young girl helps trace her. There are no answers.
The book lulls me into its gentle rhythms and then embarks on one of the most harrowing descriptions of war I’ve encountered; I now know how to skin a man alive. When reading this section on Japanese involvement in World War 2 on the train, I put the book down many times, and feel like assuming the brace position; Murakami is sensational at horror.
Murakami’s work is messy, riotous, funny, strange and genre bending. He never ties up loose ends. After reading Wind-Up I bought all his other books immediately. There is no other writer like him. How many writers can you say that about? His nonfiction on the Sarin gas attacks in Tokyo, Underground, is brilliant too.
But in fiction his lyrical and structural inventiveness is joyous and disturbing. I love this book so much I couldn’t help but work it into my own fiction. In just_a_girl, Layla, my 14-year-old, has a number of encounters with Tadashi, a Japanese-Australian man, on the train — and guess what he’s reading.
Kirsten Krauth is a freelance writer and editor. Her first novel just_a_girl has recently been released by UWA Publishing, and she blogs at Wild Colonial Girl. She also edits the NSW Writers’ Centre magazine, Newswrite.