It’s been said in a lot of other reviews that a summary of this book is really difficult to write and once it has been written, the book loses its entire meaning and most of its appeal. Murakami reaches the height (along with Kafka on the Shore) of his zen-like philosophy and narrative ambiguity, blending reality and fantasy into a beautiful and bizarre love story.
Typical of Murakami, the main character is the most boring man. Middle-aged and very average, his life up to this point has been painfully ordinary. Then he quits his very ordinary job and things get weird. After the disappearance of his cat, he starts getting bizarre phone calls, his wife leaves him and he meets his 16 year old neighbour who is obsessed with death. A friend of a (fortune-teller) friend brings another vein to the story – that of the Japanese conflict in Manchuria. This mixes with the story of his saviours, also psychics of some sort and they too are connected with the Japanese army in Manchuria during the Second World War. Their grisly tales somehow blend their way into the story and give Toru clues to finding his wife and bringing her and their cat home.
Overall, this book, I think, has a very clear narrative (despite the number of separate story-lines being developed simultaneously), but it does have a pretty vague outcome. There is a huge emphasis on dreams and mixing realities in this novel that can’t be really explained in ‘real-world’ terms. Murakami frequently explores the idea many realities and many, equally valid, truths. Could Cinnamon know for a fact what her father saw in the zoo in Manchuria while she was on a boat far away? And does it really matter? Does any of this actually have to do with finding the cat? And does that matter? Indeed, the book itself is an exercise in exploring this concept. It forces you to try to find what the one ending to the novel is, if there is one. You’re left with questions that you have to figure out for yourself, though not as many as at the end of Kafta on the Shore.
Personally, I really like that. I loved this book. I loved the fact that it’s a love story underneath it all. And I love Murakami’s style that you have to just give into and just have to accept whatever the book throws at you. I love that by reading the book, you are made to explore different realities and practice the surreal philosophy that is exemplified in the book. However if you are one of those people who like clear-cut, obvious endings or even story lines you may be frustrated early on.