I finished The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami yesterday. It's a wonderful novel. This is not a new thought; lots of other people have already come to this conclusion (for example, a couple hundred people at MIT last year).
I gave up reading fiction (especially novels) for a while because I was bored with it. Stories regularly bore me. I devote more time to reading poetry because there is more to language than telling stories. I don't like the work of authors who see the point of their craft as the chiseling of a single exclusive storyline from their loaded vocabulary. I inevitably feel like something more valuable is being chipped away. Sometimes I feel like it's me.
These feelings are only stronger when reading books written in the first person, as this one is. Too often the author doesn't actually encounter the story as the narrator might encounter it. Instead it's presented artificially and in the order most convenient for the author. Details have to line up, regardless of perspective. The end result is the constant nagging sensation that the one person narrating the story is really two, one of them with a deadline and a confidence problem.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle has stories, but they are stories told more as we might actually experience or dream them. There are always reasons to doubt reality. The details come through letters, newspaper articles, interactions with computer terminals, thoughts, conversations, observations, memories, dreams. The level to which any of these forms are privileged is itself a function of the narrator's personality and mood. In writing through them Murakami uses appropriately different modes of language. The apparent attention to the shape of the language reminds me why I'm reading a book and not watching a movie. Repetitions of particular objects, people, animals and events throughout the book encourage me to develop my own theories and interpretations. Coincidences are neither necessarily planned nor necessarily unplanned. Flipping through the book now, I see repeated lines that could form threads I may decide to follow next time.
It's not a book that's big on cliffhangers. There aren't many moments of anticipation or acceleration, until near the end, which is double-coupon day for anticipation and acceleration. It's not because everything is suddenly barreling toward resolution. It's more like the Descent of Alette. It's a dream and the rush is palpable, for reasons outside the story.
Here are a few tidbits I noticed. They are mainly instances of reaching, and maybe they won't sound that good out of context, but I think they are good examples of taking little chances. Individually they are not profound but as a bundle of sticks they are unbreakable. They are reminders to me to be brave as a writer because it's the quirks that I remember as a reader.
I already posted one bit here, about Ushikawa's clothing.
"I saw lots of men my age, but not one of them wore a Van Halen T-shirt."
"I had no more plans for the afternoon than a migrating bird has collateral assets."
"She looked ready to belt out "Johnny Angel" if you put a mike in her hand."
She dressed far more simply than she made herself up. Practical and businesslike, her outfit had nothing idiosyncratic about it: a white blouse, a green tight skirt, and no accessories to speak of. She had a white patent-leather bag tucked under her arm and wore sharp-pointed white pumps. The shoes were tiny. Their heels thin and sharp as a pencil lead, they looked like a doll's shoes. I almost wanted to congratulate her on having made it this far on them.