Greetings from the pit of angst and depression into which Norwegian Wood has tossed me.
What is UP with these kids? As far as I can tell, none of them were beaten or trapped in the cellar as children. And they couldn't have been forced to read Twilight because it didn't exist yet (ah, the good old days). And they're in COLLEGE. High school is for brooding; college is for self-discovery and sowing your wild oats.
Toru is pretty progressive. He's doing loner hipster at a time when everyone else was doing peace-loving hippy. He reads American authors no one else in Japan is reading. His favorite book is The Great Gatsby, which wouldn't be so surprising if this were set in America, but I imagine it's a bit more unusual in '60s Japan. That book is the reason he becomes friends with Nagasawa, "the one person in my world who had read Gatsby" (p. 30) and a shameless womanizer with a pretty awesome girlfriend whom he doesn't even remotely deserve. He's probably also drawn to Nagasawa because of his similarities to Kizuki, the best friend who inexplicably killed himself when Toru was in high school (more puzzling on that later) and the seeming cause of Toru's gloomy outlook on life (and death).
Toru says he went to college in Tokyo to get away from his hometown and "begin a life where I didn't know a soul" (p. 24). Maybe it worked for him for a little while, but where we come into the story, so does Naoko. She embodies all his memories of Kobe and Kizuki, and he starts spending time with her regularly. What a strange relationship they have. She and Toru should know each other well since she dated Kizuki for years.
"The three of us spent a lot of time together, but whenever Kizuki left the room, Naoko and I had trouble talking to each other. We never knew what to talk about. And in fact there was no topic of conversation that we held in common." (p. 23)When they meet again in Tokyo, they still don't talk. They just walk . . . and walk and walk and walk. And for a long time, she doesn't even let him walk beside her. He just stares at her barrette and her ear and follows her wordlessly around the city.
On her birthday, after they've been walking all over Tokyo for a year, she finally talks . . . and talks and talks and talks, nonstop for 4 hours. But she avoids any mention of Kizuki. After she cries and they share a really awkward sexual experience, in which Toru/Murakami calls Naoko's vagina "her opening" (her OPENING?!), she shuts him out. And then she moves away without telling him. She hits it and quits it, and Toru is left to pine and write letters begging for an explanation. It's an interesting gender role reversal, but Naoko has a typical female reason for leaving: the delicate state of her mental health.
When he meets Midori (the Japanese man sitting next to me on the plane yesterday informed me that this is a common name in Japan; not just a bright green liqueur, folks!), she provides a stark contrast to Naoko. For one thing, she is afflicted with verbal diarrhea. Where Naoko was quiet and withdrawn around Toru, Midori is more than willing to share her life story AND talk about sanitary napkins. Her age shows in some of the overdramatic statements she makes ("I had a perm this summer and it was just awful. I was ready to kill myself," p. 50), but she is fairly perceptive. She has Toru figured out from the beginning and repeats some of his more ridiculous statements back to him.
"'Nobody likes being alone. I just hate to be disappointed.' You can use that line if you ever write your autobiography." (p. 51)Also quite perceptive on her part: "You make it obvious you don't care whether people like you or not. That makes some people mad" (p. 70). (Psst, it's because he's a Japanese hipster.)
|Sailor Moon: The OTHER Japanese hipster.|
"I'm looking for selfishness. Perfect selfishness. Like, say I tell you I want to eat strawberry shortcake. And you stop everything you're doing and run out and buy it for me. And you come back out of breath and get down on your knees and hold this strawberry shortcake out to me. And I say I don't want it anymore and throw it out the window. That's what I'm looking for." (p. 76)
But one last thing. WHY did Kizuki kill himself? People generally have a reason for doing such a permanent thing, even if it's a dumb reason justified by hormones and acne. I mean, one minute, Toru and Kizuki are playing billiards "in a mood of total friendship," and the next, his parents are finding him dead in the garage. He "had left no suicide note, and had no motive that anyone could think of" (p. 24). But Naoko seems to have a lot of guilt associated with his death, which weighs so heavily on her when she is around Toru that she has to quit school and enter a sanatorium. Mystery! Intrigue!
Look there, on the horizon. I think I see GIANT THUNDERCLOUDS OF EMOTIONAL AGONY coming our way.