Thursday, 7 July 2016
Norwegian Wood - Haruki Murakami
So it's not quite your usual rite of passage scenario. More a case of - boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy has lots of girls, boy meets two more girls and a woman, boy cannot have any of them, but he finally loses the first girl, has sex with the woman, and decides to take up with the girl he should have focused on all along. Typical Murakami after all.
The beauty is the simplicity. Like the song, which Watanabe hears many years later in Hamburg (which then provokes his memory of Naoke, whose favourite song it was), the writing is incredibly simple yet exceptionally captivating. The translation here, by Jay Rubin, strikes what is surely the right note. The chronology seems to be straightforward but in fact a vast amount of backstory is sneaked in, even for comparatively minor characters. There is a regular use of letters between the principals in which they can reveal truths to one another which they could not say in person. Truth and untruth is one of the themes of the novel - Nagasawa is the extreme example of someone who is brutally honest about his actions whilst fooling himself that admitting his betrayals somehow legitimises them. Reiko is his opposite; again painfully honest about her past life, she excoriates herself unnecessarily. Nobody ever seems to tell the whole truth to Naoke and Watanabe does his best but has no real idea about his true feelings. Discovering them, embracing them, is his coming of age (he is still only twenty-one at the novel's end). The exquisite final paragraph suggests that he has just for him the real journey is only just beginning.
Because I have come at Murakami the wrong way round, reading his most recent and ambitious work first, I was initially slightly disappointed with Norwegian Wood because it seemed so simple and unambitious. But I stuck with it and discovered the true depth and complexity. I cannot pick favourites. Read them all is my advice.
OTHER MURAKAMI NOVELS DISCUSSED ON THIS BLOG:
1Q84 Book 3
COLORLESS TUKURU TAZAKI AND HIS YEARS OF PILGRIMAGE