Haruki Murakami, trans. Jay Rubin
London, Vintage, 2003, 386p
I want to read this book again and again and again. It is a beautiful masterpiece of love and loss and friendship. It is gripping and clever and emotional. It's the kind of book that will reveal more and more with each read.
Toru Watanabe stumbles across his past when he stumbles across his best friend's girlfriend in Tokyo. He is a thoughtful, quiet, intelligent young man. Increasingly, he finds himself spending more and more time with the beautiful, delicate Naoko, wandering through the streets with her.
Norwegian Wood reminded me of when I studied performance theory at university - the theory that our identities are performed, chosen by us depending on our situations and surroundings. One of Murakami's characters, Midori, performs her identity like she is on stage. She is outgoing and sensual; no, sexual. She speaks her mind, but seems to be pretending to be embarrassed by this. During a fight with Watanabe, she refuses to speak to him, but later explains she wanted to punish him, and she really missed him, too.
The story is written from a narrative that looks back, almost twenty years. Watanabe questions his memories as he writes, trying to recall and identify the truth. An important theme is that of mental health. Many of the characters suffer at varying levels, but this novel asks what is normal. One scene I found particularly effective - on a visit to a psychiatric house, he commented that he couldn't tell who were doctors and who were patients.
The novel is very literary, by which I mean it has subtle underlying meanings, both metaphoric and symbolic. The descriptions throughout are detailed and visual, taking you right to the heart of Tokyo. Each word feels like it was chosen for a specific purpose.
I love novels like this. I feel truly touched by it, and inspired. It is not a clear cut romance, but has depth and meaning. It is full of literary magic - the characters comment that they love the way Watanabe speaks, and I do, too. Although not explicitly, he grapples with the definition of love, and is haunted by the memory of his mistakes. It is a novel about real life.
This blog post is for Sam, as a belated thank you letter.