Writing my thoughts down, in understandable English, is going to be a challenge with this one. I absolutely cannot put it off because the longer I wait, the worse it will be.
I'd been wanting to read this book for so long. My sister, who is almost a non-reader but not quite, loved this book. She does know good media when she sees it, and she is the ultimate critic of entertainment, in my humble opinion. So there is that. Plus Murakami is just an icon in the literary world. His readers love him. I wanted to love him.
But I also heard his books are strange. And this particular one was very long (607 pages). So it sat forever on my shelves. Until Ti suggested a readalong. This, I thought, was the perfect way to foil my timid and lazy brain. Little did I know that my timid and lazy brain was going to get a major kick in the ass in so many ways. First, I actually had to interpret and absorb this equivalent of an existential drug trip (flashbacks of Stephen King), then I had to 'SPLAIN it. Smoke is coming out of my ears.
Synopsis: Toru Okada is a married young man, recently unemployed of his own choosing, in an attempt to reconsider his career path. Supported by his wife Kumiko, he passively plods through his days doing laundry, swimming, cooking and reading. Then their cat goes missing, and Kumiko demands that Toru find it. Soon Kumiko goes missing, and nothing makes any sense to Toru. The normalcy of Toru's days take a sudden turn off the steady path.
He meets a precocious teenage girl who obsesses over the morbid, sisters who are psychic prostitutes, an old war veteran who relates a horrific story from his time in Manchuria and the lasting effect it has had on his life, and a mother and her mute son who run a bizarre business relating to spiritual renewal. He also becomes fixated on Kumiko's menacing brother who is a rising politician and a published genius, but whom Toru loathes. He finds a dry well. He discovers an alternate dream world in this well that may help answer the most important questions about his wife. He gets a strange mark on his face that won't go away.
Stories are extracted, remembered or documented from this cast of characters and more, and all seem to lead Toru towards enlightenment and rebirth. One of these remembered stories comes from a marriage counselor of sorts, that Toru and Kumiko consulted before they were married. His words of advice ring throughout the book:
"It is not a question of better or worse. The point is, not to resist the flow. You go up when you're supposed to go up and down when you're supposed to go down. When you're supposed to go up, find the highest tower and climb to the top. When you're supposed to go down, find the deepest well and go down to the bottom. When there's no flow, stay still. If you resist the flow, everything dries up. If everything dries up, the world is darkness. Abandon the self, and there you are."
My thoughts: Despite the surreal journey within these pages, and despite the fact that most of the time I had no idea what was going on, I REALLY enjoyed reading this book. I would pick up on little clues and hints that related to other things, but I didn't quite know how it all fit. At one point, I felt that this novel was two million moving parts, all with a strange synchronicity. Late in the book, this quote spoke to me:
"Everything was intertwined, with the complexity of a three-dimensional puzzle - a puzzle in which truth was not necessarily fact and fact not necessarily truth."
Exactly! In fact, that could be the book's tag line. The stories from the various characters were mesmerizing and fascinating and gruesome. The characters themselves are unforgettable, although many were not always likable and most were insane. Crazy as it sounds though, by the end, I understood. Not everything, but I understood where I was.
Let me describe my experience like this. I'm doing something normal, like cleaning my house. I take a drink of water that has been drugged with LSD. I'm shoved into a car by a masked ninja and taken on a cross-country road trip, on which I occasionally lift my head and look out the window and see pink elephants, flying cats, and Viggo Mortensen with rainbows coming out of his butt (all good things but confusing). I see the occasional traffic accident with gore and tragedy, and it scares me so I lay back down. I wake up in Fiji on a beach. Cool. Don't really know how I got here, but who cares? That is the best way I can describe this book. Read it if you dare.
5 out of 5 stars