This strange yet gripping tale follows Toru Okada throughout the period of just over one year of his life. In the beginning, Toru’s life slowly unravels- unbeknown to himself, and at this point the reader too- perfectly setting his character up for the mysterious and mind-boggling events that are to cross his path. The beauty of Murakami, is that he is draws the reader in so closely, focusing on miniscule details of each and every event, that when he suddenly chooses to distance you, you become shocked to realise just how he has managed to distract you from a wider context, and how the story may have progressed in ways that you didn’t realise. In this sense you almost become the protagonist and see very much through his lens. In the case of Mr. Okada, at the beginning of the book, he seems to have a relatively normal grasp of life and the ways he likes to go about things, yet as the story progresses the reader is thrown in and out of Toru’s position, into the hands of other characters, which ultimately gives you scope on just how short sighted and self-contained Toru has become.
When Toru and his wife Kumiko have lost their cat, Noboru Wataya –later renamed Mackerel- Toru makes use of his time of unemployment and goes in search of the cat with the help of some other very strange yet enlightening characters. During this time he meets the people that are to set his life on its real course, and to cause him, in the end, to gain the ability of self-reflection. He spends lots of time at the bottom of a well, where occasionally he is able to break through into another world of confusion and ultimately, redemption; he befriends a seventeen year old girl named May Kasahara, who remains one of my favourite characters, for her unrestrained honesty and questioning curiosity, and he meets many others on his journey, who continue to help him reaffirm his individuality through difference and proximity.
At the beginning of the book I was unsure if I could tolerate what I initially thought was Toru’s main quality: passivity. I carried on reading to find that this really wasn’t the case and I’m glad that I gave him a second chance. I think that this may, in part, be what the book is about, as Toru’s ferocious devotion to his estranged wife Kumiko, is what brings him back from the brink of seclusion and is what allows him to feel a glimpse of contentment. There are many reasons I enjoyed this book, most of all however, I think that the encouragement from Murakami for introspection and greater thought are what I love the most. I recommend this novel for its dreamlike qualities and for its authenticity in questioning what is real and what is not.