Top positive review
It's like Murakami decided to write an Iain Banks novel
on August 14, 2017
Here we have Murakami being particularly whimsical. I wonder about the translation though, sometimes there are phrases that repeat, jumping out at the reader, which might have been more transparent idioms in the original. That slightly irritating quirk apart, there are a few differences from the usual Murakami tropes here.
It's almost a novelty not to have a rambling story about World War II turned into the underpinnings of the character arcs. Instead it's almost a voyage into cyberpunk. Almost.
There are clearly nods to classic hard-boiled detective stories, and then there are things that make it different from his other works... Like a hero who really prefers chubby women, but ends up with a very skinny one anyway. I don't know what that's trying to say to me. Of course, there are references to a lost cat, and a protagonist who spends a lot of time telling us about how he cooks - when he's not discussing his musical preferences. Because? Murakami right?
I never know whether Murakami's work is genuinely "literary" fiction, or he's just having a laugh. Norwegian Wood struck me as "what people expect from a novel", but like Iain Banks, Murakami decided not to let himself be tied down by boring things like reality, and adds his own improvements.
The Grandfather character is incredibly annoying, popping up to drive the plot, and seemingly to blame for anything that needs to be explained away. This leaves us with an unlucky protagonist whose life seems to have been turned upside down by the careless interventions of this dangerous lunatic of a man, genius or otherwise.
Compared to IQ or Wind Up Bird, this is not as good, but it feels more self-contained, and less like you have to read every single thing the author ever wrote just to "get" half of it. At the end, I didn't care a lot what happened either way. To my mind, this story lacks a satisfactory conclusion. It's not just missing a few pages, or a different choice, rather it's missing half a book. It would have been fascinating if we saw the protagonist's post-end-of-the-world recovery and the new reality that emerged from it, and how that world is dramatically different from the world he thought he was in. That would have made the earlier parts worthwhile, given them some point, but as is, they're just an unanswered question that leaves far too much for the reader to provide.
Still, I gave this four stars. Murakami is always good, in his way, but it's literary comfort food. Nothing really challenges of confronts, and nothing matters too much. We have a character arm, but it's a shallow parabola, we have kooky characters, but they come and go, mostly go. It's enjoyable reading, and when you're done, there's plenty to think about and talk to other Murakami fans about. It's a known quantity. Dependable. Safe. Surprising only in the expected ways. Those aren't bad qualities in a book, but they don't make a great read, just a good one.