Out of all Murakami’s novels and even short stories that I have read, this one stands out. It has a realist style, without any weird dystopian elements, such as fish “raining” from the sky. Instead, it portrays human nature as it is, with its complexities, feelings, thoughts and relative strength.
I read somewhere today that a story needs to have a conflict, in order to be attractive for the audience. I must say in this case that the conflict experienced by the characters in this novel is an internal one. They are not mad at the world, or at a specific person in particular. They are mad at themselves for not being able to blend in, for not knowing how to cope with the death of their loved ones, for not learning sooner and practising on how to view death as a part of life, instead of its opposite.
Each one of the characters experiences life differently. Nioko encapsulates into a world of loneliness, guilt and eternal memories, up to the point where it is hard to distinguish what is real and what are just imaginary voices. Watanabe on the other hand, is calmer, even colder to some extent. Yet, his inner feelings are so intense, that he cannot just ignore them. He is willing to go long distances (even literally so), in order to give them a chance. Midori, the third living piece of this love triangle is depicted as a lively, practical girl, who loves passionately and is not afraid to make radical decisions. She knows what she wants and is not afraid to let her imagination go beyond her comfort zone.
As I hinted above, yet without wanting to spoil anything for you, the paths of these 3 main characters get entangled at some point, and this is where the real plot climax is: in this inner “war”, which often times is a cold war, as 2 of these characters never even meet.
What gives them consolation? Little things: nature, music, cooking, walking. When it is hard to go with the social flow, then such activities can be a great substitute. These characters even write letters to each other. This made me think on the effect that a written letter can have, as opposed to a short digital text message. Letters make communication seem closer to heart and definitely not taken for granted. The anticipation of a letter builds up emotions, which ultimately can translate into a consoling medicine for the receiver, but also for the writer.
Memories as a theme per se are one of the main pillars of this novel. As Murakami goes back and forth into the past, memories are always there. After all, we want to be remembered by the people we care the most. This is also a theme of other Murakami’s works such as Kafka on the Shore, or Killing Commendatore.
Memories can serve as a way of escapism, but they can also become dangerous, and absorbing like a black hole. In fact, while playing the plot in my head, I realise that memories in the story are not designed to bring happiness. They are auxiliary to nostalgia. It is the present action, the present situation, and the perspective for the future, which can bring happiness. As it is hard for Murakami’s characters to find happiness in a random way, I realise that maybe this is not the point of the story. Finding some green temporary oasis in a dry gloomy picture is enough; it’s real.
The sounds of The Beatles’ Norwegian Wood have accompanied me during reading this novel. I highly recommend you do the same, in order to fully get the whole book experience and come up with your own lived version of the story, your own perception on how the characters are feeling.
Feel free to share! I am looking forward to hearing your own reflections on this amazing book.