Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dreams and out-of-body experiences in "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle"

Haruki Murakami's "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" is a really super dooper book in a lot of ways, and without doubt one of the best books I've recently read. I was really sad when I finished it because it has a really sad ending and because I was sad there was no more of it. Final judgment: very good read.

Probably the thing that made this book most interesting to me in terms of its speculative orientation was how Murakami blurred the lines between reality and fantasy. There's a lot of fantasy out there today that does what I call "magic-as-metaphor," where some sort of fantastic reality stands in for something else (you might even call it "fantallegory"); Steve Rasnic Tem's "Deadfall Hotel" does this, in my opinion. It's very easy and it's very nice, and it helps relate fantastic scenarios to (ahem) "real life." Murakami does this in "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle," but he does it far better than anything else I've seen.

To distill it as best as I am able without giving away too many of the book's secrets, there is basically an "otherworld" in "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" that is accessible to people with certain sensitivies. Most of the characters in the book are medium-type characters who can interact with this special world. For the protagonist, who does not "naturally" enter this world, it is deeply associated with dreams, but also out-of-body experiences, and an important plot arc is how he learns to act and manipulate this otherworld.

This otherworld is the place where certain conflicts are worked out. And it could be seen as a "fantallegory," an ur-reality that teaches us about the characters of the story even if it is, in a sense, not "really" happening. But I found Murakami's fantasia to be incredibly, incredibly convincing--sometimes to the point of real fear or anxiety during reading. The hotel that is the locus of this otherworld in "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" acts, reacts, and exists in a way so reminiscent of real dreams (my real dreams, at least) that I was absolutely ensnared by the possibility that, just maybe, the kind of telepathic/telekinetic/supernatural linkages Murakami makes in his book could be real. Really real.

In short, this is one of the best fantasy books I've ever read. Murakami won a World Fantasy Award for his book "Kafka on the Shore," so I think I'll try to read that soon.


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