Friday, June 14, 2013

On "Experiencing" Murakami's Norwegian Wood

WARNING: SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Murakami has stated in an interview, sorry can't remember where and am paraphrasing, that he can't relate to people who only read books, not experience them. Fitting, because this is how I felt reading Norwegian Wood (2000; the translation since I can't, yet, read Japanese).

I think the first person narrative, which Murakami is proficient in, helps the novel be more immersive, for obvious reasons, as opposed to third person. But really I struggle to articulate why NW was more an experience than a read.

Certainly, the characters are all realistic, interesting, and quirky: Toru, Naoko, Midori, Nagasawa, Hitsume, and, especially at the end, Reiko. (Kizuki isn't really developed for an obvious reason - he dies in the beginning.) My favs: Midori (as a reader), Naoko (as a writer).

I really wanted Toru to be with Naoko in the end. Apparently, according to this Paris Review interview, I'm in the minority. Toru was in love with Naoko, and while he later falls for Midori (he "chooses Midori," as Murakami states in the interview), honestly, I don't buy it - in the sense that I don't think his feelings are equal with those he felt for Naoko, which he displays and explicitly describes throughout the novel. Midori is nice (sensual, outgoing - really all that Naoko isn't), but Naoko is who Toru fell hard for and for whom he obsesses over. (Let's also not forget that Toru could easily masturbate thinking about Naoko but could not when thinking about Midori.)

But I think also the focus on human relationships and concerns (death, friendship, love) helped me experience the novel.

On the negative side, I think Toru, especially when interacting with others, is too passive, not showing much, if any, emotion. I found myself often surprised when he showed an emotion or preference when talking with others because I wasn't getting that sense at all from him.

Most memorably, and most symptomatic of experiencing the novel, I found myself crying in bed thinking about Naoko's death, the helplessness of Toru. Poor Naoko suffers for the entire book, trying to heal, trying to love, and then Toru falls for someone else and she kills herself, never to be "violated" again. I felt horrible, really. And that's when I realized I was taking this book way too seriously.

Definitely a great book, gave it five stars on Goodreads for the straightforward writing, human concerns, great characters, and one very sad experience. In fact, I'm not sure if I forgive Murakami yet for killing that poor girl Naoko.

Favorite quotes from the book:

"I want you always to remember me. Will you remember that I existed, and that I stood next to you here like this?"

"Don't feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes do that."

"'How much do you love me?' / 'Enough to melt all the tigers in the world to butter.'"

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