Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Norwegian Wood: Haruki Murakami

Shorter than some of his novels and bereft of his trademark immersion in supernatural and outwordly events, this is nevertheless a sumptuous and highly satisfying read. The narrator is Toru Watanabe who is remembering the emotional turmoil that was his teenage life some twenty years previously. He thinks of Naoko, his first love who had been the girlfriend of his best friend, Kizuki, until Kizuki killed himself at the age of seventeen. Naoko and Toru are drawn to one another through loss and yet find it almost impossible to express or render tangible their feelings.
The novel conveys such a consistent and overriding sense of loss and longing that it is unsurprising when other characters die. Naoko reveals that her sister commited suicide some years before Kizuki did so. And when Toru meets another girl, Midori, one of the key experiences of his burgeoning relationship with her is when he visits her father in hospital, makes some kind of connection with him only to learn he has died a few days later.
Torn between the unresolved questions of the past as embodied by his love for Naoko and the possibility of reaching into the future by commiting himself to Midori, Toru is wracked with confusion, guilt, and eventually depression when it becomes clear that Naoko's mental health problems are never going to be cured.
For a tale of a young man trying to choose between two lovers the narrative reveals more than most might, dragging us through Toru's promiscuous attempts to feel alive in the arms of random strangers. In lesser hands such details might turn us against the protagonist but Murakami writes with such tenderness, such comprehension of the failures and foibles of youth that there is no loss of sympathy or engagement with Toru. Throughout the narrative there runs an evocative portrayal of the confusions of a boy on the cusp of becoming a man. Toru's journey from selfish adolecence to self-aware adulthood is a painful and frequently traumatic one. Aren't they all? Given the choice, would many of us opt to go back and relive their teenage years again? Far better to travel in time through memories; far less disturbing to be able to finally make some sense of the turbulence from the perspective of another two decades experience on the planet.
In the end, some of Toru's choices are made for him by fate and circumstances. That he finally realises that the past will always leave him frozen if he cannot move forward, is admirable but there is a sense that the older version of Toru narrating the story still ponders what might have been now and then. In the end Murakami leads us to the only truly satisfying conclusion available to the plot. There are various other endings he might have written, but none of them would have left quite such an indelible impression on the reader's own emotions.

1 comment:

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