Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Norwegian Wood Read-Along Week 2: Is crazy contagious?

Raise your hand if you think you were a little too hard on Naoko.

When she was explaining the codependent nature of her relationship with Kizuki, I started to see how his suicide could take a wrecking ball to her life. They had been inseparable since the age of 3, they had their first (and only) sexual experiences together, and their individual egos melted together to make one. But she thinks they somehow cheated the system, and that Kizuki killing himself and her mental breakdown were just the other shoe dropping.
"We didn't pay when we should have, so now the bills are due." (p. 128)
That is NOT a healthy way to look at the situation, as screwed up as it is. But that's not even all! Naoko's older sister killed herself at 17, too. And Naoko, in the sixth grade at the time, was the one who found her dead. From where I'm standing, Naoko has had more than her fair share of tragedy in her 20 years of life. I don't blame her for wanting to sneak quietly away from the world.

And that's exactly what the sanatorium is: AWAY from the world. It's practically a cult, and it doesn't seem designed to prepare patients for reentry to the outside world. Once there, I think it would be hard to ever leave. That's why Reiko has been there for 7 years (P.S. HOW MUCH DO WE LOVE REIKO?). As good as the place has been for Naoko's mental and physical health, I don't have high hopes for her recovering enough to leave. She's like a bird with a broken wing, maybe TWO broken wings.

Let's talk about Reiko. Does she remind anyone else of Midori? Her candid way of talking. The way Toru is instantly drawn to her. Her guitar playing (although Reiko's actually good at it. Poor Midori). She even calls Toru out on his strange way of talking. While Midori compared him to Humphrey Bogart, Reiko (in her infinite wisdom) sees him playing the part of Holden Caulfield. And the story she tells Toru! Lies, seduction, betrayal, a 13-year-old life-ruining lesbian. Someone give that woman a cookie and a hug.

But the way the three of them interact is eerily similar to the threesome that used to be Naoko, Kizuki, and Toru. It's almost as though Reiko has taken Toru's place in the group, Toru has taken Naoko's, and Naoko has taken Kizuki's.
"'When it's raining like this,' said Naoko, 'it feels as if we're the only ones in the world. I wish it would just keep raining so the three of us could stay together.'" (p. 161)

This doesn't bode well. In fact, it suggests that Naoko will not only NOT recover but will follow her sister and Kizuki out of the world in an equally tragic manner.

Continuing Murakami's use of light to make some sort of point, Chapter 6 seems dominated by moonlight and candlelight. This contributes to the dreamlike quality of the days Toru spends at the sanatorium. I think that may also be the reason Chapter 6 was SO VERY VERY long. By the time I got to the end of that chapter, I felt the jarring contrast Toru felt between the peaceful sanatorium and the "normal" world.
"I felt almost as if I had come to a planet where the gravity was a little different. Yes, of course, I told myself, feeling sad: I was in the outside world now." (p. 164)
At one point, Toru compares himself to Jay Gatsby and Naoko to Daisy.
"It was easy to tell which room was hers. All I had to do was find the one window toward the back where a faint light trembled. I focused on that point of light for a long, long time. It made me think of something like the final throb of a soul's dying embers. I wanted to cup my hands over what was left and keep it alive. I went on watching it the way Jay Gatsby watched that tiny light on the opposite shore night after night." (p. 113)
I definitely see Naoko's similarities to Daisy, but I was seeing Toru as more of a Nick Carraway. Maybe he was a Nick when he was with Naoko and Kizuki, but now he is changing to a Gatsby? Anyone have some insight on this?

Either way, I see more sad times ahead. We could start betting on who will kick the bucket next.


  1. I love Reiko although I can't help but think of her as Midori-lite. Or Midori-but-kinda-crazy. Just someone who isn't so mopey and bland.

    I never noticed the triangle of Toru/Naoko/Kizuki changing to Toru/Naoko/Reiko but that makes so much sense

  2. *raising hand* I definitely am guilty of judging Naoko too soon.  Now I just want to cuddle her and get her some grapes to peel.  

    I'm still on the fence about Reiko.  I think she's an entertaining character, and I'm glad she's injecting some levity into the depressfest that Norwegian Wood is quickly becoming, but... there's something really strange about the way she presented her story to Toru.  I don't think she was telling the whole truth.  I'm hoping we get to hear more of her backstory later.  

  3. Isn't it funny that our natural instinct regarding people who appear to be TOO candid is that they must be hiding something? It's usually true, though. Those who talk the most and the loudest tend to have the biggest secrets lurking in the background. But I like Reiko...I hope she doesn't prove me wrong.

    And now I want some grapes.

  4. I'm SO glad the triangle makes sense to you, because after I wrote that sentence I started to think it looked like gibberish. There's just TOO MUCH symbolism and nuance in this book. I feel like I'm reading into everything too much in an effort to get the subtle hints Murakami is hurling over my head.

  5. I hadn't picked up on the three-way action between Toru Reiko and Naoko - nice catch.

    I felt like Reiko being Midori-lite was kind of a way of validating Midori's perspective on Toru.  Like, "I know Midori is a little crazy-time, but it's true - the dude talks funny."

    Also, that gif at the top cracked is PERFECT.  Cracked me up big time!

  6. I'm just glad I was able to write something rational! I felt like my brain had gone to mush when I was done reading Chapter 6. All I wanted to do was eat grapes and feed some birds.

    I think you're right about Reiko affirming Midori's observation of Toru. And now we have it on good authority that he's an odd duck.

  7. I STILL DO NOT REALLY LIKE NAOKO. Just saying. Also: "In fact, it suggests that Naoko will not only NOT recover but will
    follow her sister and Kizuki out of the world in an equally tragic

    This is possibly more likely an end than my serial killer theory. POSSIBLY. Because he totes doesn't know her anymore at the very beginning. So SOMETHING happens to her. Whether that means she was arrested for killing her sister and boyfriend, or ends up killing herself, only time shall tell, man.

  8. *raises hand, keeps it up*  I am guilty of not liking Naoko, but these last 2 chapters finally justified why she was so emotionally damaged.  I think it's sad how Naoko sincerely believes she and Kizuki deserved tragedy for their relationship.  I'm still trying to wrap my head around her "logic".
    As for kicking the bucket - honestly, Murakami's on a roll!  :P

  9. Oh hey, I can comment now?  Weird.  I also posted this on Alice's entry, but I'll post it again.  Now that you mention it I can totally see Toru as Gatsby.  It's not a perfect comparison, obviously, but it just occurred to me that he does find a better paying job, rent a real house in the suburbs, and fix it up with an eye towards living there with Naoko.  I think he wants to save her from her illness and go back to the way things were  before Kizuki's suicide, just like Gatsby wants to save Daisy from her loveless marriage and recapture their past relationship.  ("Can't repeat the past?  Why, of course you can!"). 

  10. Oooh, I like the new threesome thing! Maybe Naoko can't function in groups that aren't like that! She definitely clearly needs someone to be extremely close to her at all times, which isn't really possible and so maybe why I now think maybe you're right about Naoko not being long for this world... but I kind of don't want that to happen, because omg her poor parents! And oh, God. I love Reiko. I hope she appears again, at least!

  11. I have my fingers crossed that you're right about the serial killer thing. IF you are, I will fly to Chicago and high-five you in person.

  12. Right?! I judged her too harshly. And if I stop to think about it, 20 is extremely young (even though it was just 6 years ago for me). Despite her inability to be a functioning part of normal society, she's able to see exactly what's going on and why she is the way she is. She's quite insightful for a 20-year-old, I think.

  13. Hmmmm....very interesting. So his transformation seems to be from a Nick to a Gatsby. By total coincidence, I ended up participating in a Great Gatsby read-along this month, too. I don't know if I would have gotten all these little references if I wasn't rereading Gatsby simultaneously. Pure luck!

  14. Oh, her parents! I forgot about them. Yeah...that would be more than most people could bear to lose TWO daughters to suicide. I was feeling burned out reading this book, but now I really want to know what happens next!