I sit here having just read the final sentences of Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami; my heart swelling with a flurry of emotions after an ending that remained both open-ended and conclusive.
Set in Japan in the late 1960s, Murakami brings to life the crevices and plateaus of life and death, friendship and love – sexual exploration parading through as the thread of continuity throughout the entirety of Toru’s coming of age years.
Norwegian Wood is structured chronologically; with exception of the first chapter which takes place in present day. The novel is written with the start of Toru’s final year in high school and ends in his last year of university. Each of the characters Murakami brings into Toru’s life have separate story lines. No two characters cross paths in the novel – except for Naoko and Reiko since he meets Reiko when he visits Naoko at an unorthodox treatment center.
The five different character plot lines that exist are Toru with Naoko, Toru with Naoko and Reiko, Toru with Midori, and Toru with Nagasaka. His independent relationships make up his strides with love, sex, death, and friendship.
Quotes from the novel:
“Nobody likes being alone. I just hate the disappointment.”
“‘I can never say what I want to say,’ continued Naoko. ‘It’s been like this for a while now. I try to say something, but all I get are the wrong words – the wrong words or the exact opposite words from what I mean. I try to correct myself, and that only makes it worse. I lose track of what I was trying to say to begin with. It’s like I’m split in two and playing tag with myself. One half is chasing the other around this big, fat post. The other me has the right words, but this me can’t catch her.’ She raised her face and looked into my eyes. ‘Does this make any sense to you?'”
“This is one more piece of advice I have for you: don’t get impatient. Even if things are so tangled up you can’t do anything, don’t get desperate or blow a fuse and start yanking on one particular thread before it’s ready to come undone. You have to figure it’s going to be a long process and that you’ll work on things slowly, one at a time.”
“I’m just sad. You were so nice to me when I was having my problems, but now that you’re having yours, it seems there’s not a thing I can do for you. You’re all locked up in that little world of yours, and when I try knocking on the door, you just sort of look up for a second and go right back inside.
“But who can say what’s best? That’s why you need to grab whatever chance you have of happiness where you find it, and not worry about other people too much. My experience tells me that we get no more than two or three such chances in a life time, and if we let them go, we regret it for the rest of our lives.”
What might be uncomfortable for most is the center stage theme of suicide. It begins with Toru’s high school friend’s suicide and further grows into that aspect of mental illness; taking your own life at a desired and chosen time. Toru is left with the deafening absence that suicide drops behind. How he makes his own way through to happiness – which ends with both a clear and confusing answer – becomes the meat of the novel.
It has been critiqued that Norwegian Wood is a cop out for Murakami; a stray from his otherwise surrealistic themes to a more traditional and chronological love story. I cannot concur with that sentiment.
Murakami is a master of prose; his poetic and lyrical style always leave a stain on my mind. No other love story is compiled in segments of Toru’s isolated relationships with friends and lovers. No other love story has sex as the primary way to connect, regardless if the base of the relationship lies in friendship. The novel is heightened sexually only to be balanced by the darkening abyss of death – the two most natural and mortal aspects of human beings.
While Norwegian Wood has been labeled as a coming of age novel, I find that its themes and storylines lend itself to much more than that; for what coming of age novel includes the messy combination of suicide and sex?
Only Murakami can remind me that life is meant to be felt and that feelings should feel full. Norwegian Wood taught me that choosing life is essential – we should nurture death only until it is our natural time. Life is nothing but nurturing death. And the best way to nurture death is to live.
**Featured Image from Tumblr.com – BookIssues