Murakami’s Norwegian Wood
Haruki Murakami is one of my favorites and I’ve read quite a few of his books, but I was really surprised by Norwegian Wood. It’s so different from the usual talking-cat, guy-sitting-in-a-well Murakami scenes that at first, I was a little confused. But I did really like this novel, even if it isn’t the traditional, crazy Murakami.
Norwegian Wood‘s main character is Toru Watanabe, a quiet, thoughtful nineteen year old who is studying in Tokyo. A loner, Toru doesn’t have many friends, but he’s recently renewed a friendship with an old friend Naoko, who had previously dated Toru’s friend Kizuki. Toru and Naoko had been out of touch since Kizuki’s suicide at seventeen. Now reunited, together they walk the streets of the city, “as if our walking were a religious ritual meant to heal our wounded spirits.” But walking cannot heal Naoko; Kizuki’s death has hurt her in ways that neither her or Toru can fully understand. She leaves the city to deal with her emotional issues at a rural retreat hours from Toru. In love with Naoko but unable to be with her, Toru first friends Nagasawa, a player who encourages Toru to sleep with as many woman as possible, and then Midori, an unusual girl who is full of life. It is Nagasawa who delivers my absolute favorite line of the book: “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
There are no alternate worlds, wind-up birds or unicorn skulls, but Norwegian Wood ends with a bit of classic Murakami:
Where was I now? I had no idea. No idea at all. Where was this place? All that flashed into my eyes were countless shapes of people walking by to nowhere. Again and again, I called out for Midori from the dead center of this place that was no place.
I’ve thought about this ending over and over and would love to believe it’s as happy as James Crisp thinks:
If anyone in the novel is a symbol of life, it is Midori, and by calling out to her, I can only understand that Toru has chosen to keep living and to pursue happiness. Midori’s silence is ‘the silence of all the misty rain in the world falling on all the new-mown lawns of the world.’ That’s a positive image for me at least, pregnant with possibility.
But, I don’t really think that. I’m afraid the ending is sad and that Toru has himself slipped into the lonely world Naoko inhabited and is struggling to make his way out. Midori, I believe, responds with silence because she has already given Toru his last chance and she will not come through this time to bring him back to life.
Have you read Norwegian Wood? What did you make of the ending?