Murakami says that he does not plot out his novels ahead of time, preferring instead to let the stories tell themselves. In the case of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle that is self-evident. The plot wanders into interleaving stories. Some of them work astonishingly well: gripping historical thrillers wrapped in letters. Others miss or are completely forgotten: a fable of a young boy. Overall, I get the sense that Murakami really wanted this book to be a literary work and it reaches in a somewhat obvious way. Over time, though, Murakami’s writing gets tighter, as in his later book Kafka on the Shore.
Despite its flaws, the book succeeds in many ways. There is a lot of interesting history here and Murakami attempts to reckon with the history of Japan after World War II and the rise of media consumption as a form of politics. In some ways, the book predicts the effects of the Internet and social media on politics, at least in the US. The shadowy figure of Noboru Wataya, especially as his power grows through his media appearances, shows the rise and power of those who are entirely shine and not substance.