Contrary to popular belief, I found Norwegian Wood written by Haruki Murakami quite disappointing. Maybe I just failed to understand the profound meaning Murakami has tried to convey about loss, unrequited love and nostalgia. But in my opinion, the book is merely a compilation of baseless (and greatly detailed, *cough*) sexual scenarios and poor – or rather – unexplained, transitions. I can’t disagree that Murakami has written the book simply, and thus beautifully: the use of certain words and phrases is quite endearing. It’s one of the things that made me want to continue reading. The plot however, seems to descend deeper and deeper into darkness and depression, which appeals to me on very few occasions and in this case, it did not (for example, despite the downright tragedy and trauma described in The Kite Runner, it’s one of my favourite books). I suggest you don’t read beyond this point if you haven’t read the book and are meaning to do so because I’m going to rant a little about the characters and their endings.
Toru Watanbe: Very simple guy; a little too ambivalent perhaps. But in a way, it added to my curiosity and made me want to know what he would do next. His simplicity made him quite unpredictable which I did enjoy. Apart from that, Toru is depicted as very indecisive man, but only when it comes to his love life. He’s very clear about certain things such as his outlook on life – it’s easy to understand this from his disagreements with Nagasawa. But when it comes to the women in his life, all of his rational thinking seems to exit his mind, which annoyed me to no end (but really, who am I to talk about indecisiveness). This confusion of his particularly annoys me when he has to decide between Naoko and Midori when the latter is obviously better suited for him – let’s face it, as dreamy and angelic Naoko was, she wasn’t the best lover. Also, what’s up with him and Reiko sleeping together? I don’t get that part one bit; it was completely unnecessary – or am I missing something?
Towards the end of the novel too, Toru is confused about his whereabouts when Midori asks him where he is. To those who assume he committed suicide – majority of the novel is a flashback and thus he can’t have killed himself. Sure, the ending has got several metaphorical connotations and I think Murakami wanted to leave the readers wondering, or wanting more, but Toru ultimately comes across as someone who is lost.
Naoko: It took me a few chapters to actually understand her character; Naoko is very cryptic and not necessarily in the good way. While she’s suffering from the loss of companionship she had with Kizuki and is absolutely shattered when he decides to commit suicide, Murakami has shaped her character to appear very weak and dependent (on Toru). It frustrating how she’s a natural tease and leads on Toru which I guess results in his indecision. Another reason for his confusion could be the unspeakable things she does with Toru, who’s her (dead) boyfriend’s best friend, but then again, Toru’s to blame as well. It’s with this particular character that I feel the transitioning of the story isn’t very smooth – her expected yet abrupt intercourse with Toru, her finding refuge in the sanitarium, her shift to a legit institution and then finally her abrupt suicide – maybe I feel so because I read the book with lots of intervals in between, but still, it’s as though there’s something missing. Maybe I failed to interpret her anguish correctly.
Midori: A very eccentric girl, this one; if I said Toru is unpredictable, this girl was something else entirely. There are more than a few times in the book when her words made me backtrack and my jaw drop. Compared to Naoko, she’s fairly independent and one thing I liked most about her is she knows what she wants. I believe that she’s a better choice when compared to Naoko because, well, she’s straight with her words and thoughts (seriously, I don’t think she has a filter) – but even that sort of confuses Toru’s feelings towards her. One thing that was a complete turn off however, was that it seemed almost as if she forced Toru to love her. In the beginning of their friendship – even when they grow quite close to each other – Toru is clear about his feelings towards her which are purely platonic (this is easily proved even after his attempt at trying to invoke any sort of sexual feelings he may have deep inside about her). If I’m not wrong, I think he even mentions somewhere in the book, that he considers her to be like his little sister? I feel that he didn’t romantically love her until she forced the idea on him. Poor guy, Watanbe. But I suppose none of this is Murakami’s fault, maybe he wanted to portray his character in such a light. Although not something I particularly liked, but it was definitely unique and refreshing in a way.
ps: Someone’s who’s read the book, please explain to me what “How much do you love me?’ Midori asked. ‘Enough to melt all the tigers in the world to butter,” means?
I know it’s a reference to the book The Story of Little Black Sambo, but how exactly do the tigers chasing each other (and then melting into a pool of butter) express how much Toru loves Midori?