In 1985 Murakami published the novel Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, one of the most technically proficient novels of that decade, celebrating both the technocratic, cyberpunk milieu of modern Japan and the pastoral pre-US occupation dreamland past. In this work, Murakami explored the juxtaposition of “being” against “non-being”: a concept that haunts his early works. And while we are not reviewing that work, it is in many ways instrumental in understanding the cultural reaction to Norwegian Wood.
As I allude to above, Hardboiled goes back and forth by chapter, telling what are seemingly two different tales, but, as is revealed in the text, we gradually come to understand that they are two sides of the same tale, a tale of man gradually losing himself to the conditions of his memory. I don’t want to spoil that rich novel for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, so suffice it to say that the book showcases both the seeming everyday that Murakami places on top of the magical, think men dressed as sheep or a man who works at an elephant factory, and the non-existence of Japan’s very troubled past, showcased in the walled End of the World.
Norwegian Wood seemingly describes Murakami’s college years; the dorm living, ’60’s rebellion, music, girls. And while he makes if plain that these aren’t his years that he is describing (he has stated that his college experiences would fill a total of ten pages), they feel so real, so personal that one can’t help but be drawn into them, placing our own experiences into the book. And although he gives the narrator a name in this novel (Toru) he writes it in the style of the Japanese I-novel, an autobiographical style popular in postwar Japan. Reminiscent of Raymond Carver, whom Murakami is a fan of, this allows great freedom in the tale, but also places the storyteller at a remove.
In the opening chapters, we are quickly plunged into the past, as our narrator hears the titular song. Memories, complete although so deep that it takes all his will to bring them forth, of events that make him physical ill when he hears the song. Naoko looms large, taking Toru on long walks in both the country and the city. Their conversations are oblique, circling around a topic, which seemingly relates to the death of Kizuki, Naoko’s boyfriend and Toru’s best friend. Here we are shown the being vs. non-being, bridged only by memory.
What are your thoughts? Burt, in the comments of the introductory post for this, described beautiful melancholy, which I think fits the narration quite well. Were will the tale go? And why was it so able to get under the skin of a generation of Japanese? Who is Stormtrooper and why does he stutter? Please, join in the comments and let us know what you think.
Thus ends part two of Norwegian Wood book club, what does everyone say to reading chaps 4, 5 and 6 for next week? Let me know in the comments