James Crisp

Software dev, tech, mind hacks and the occasional personal bit

“Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood is an excellent novel. I finished reading it at lunch today, and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. The novel is really subtle, and at the start, I wasn’t immediately interested. However, once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down. Toru, the narrator is so well developed in the novel that he seems almost like somebody I have met in real life. If you haven’t read it, don’t hesitate – start reading it right away! And don’t read any more of this post.

If you have read it, what do you think of the ending? I’ve read people suggesting that Toru committed suicide or similar, but I don’t believe that that is the case. For one thing, he’s got to live to 37 and catch a plane, as described at the start of the novel. I think the “dead centre” reference is due to Toru being dead centre of the “countless shapes of people walking by to nowhere”, rather than having died. I think the ending is happy. Or maybe I just want it to be. Here’s my interpretation. Toru is lost in the middle of nowhere. His old life was based around Naoko and Kizuki (plus Reiko as a link to them). They have all died or left. He is in the middle of nowhere. But Midori can rescue him from this. She is his anchor to reality and a new life. She will give his life direction and meaning – that’s why he calls out to her again. If anyone in the novel is a symbol of life, it is Midori, and by calling out to her, I can only understand that Toru has chosen to keep living and to pursue happiness. Midori’s silence is “the silence of all the misty rain in the world falling on all the new-mown lawns of the world”. That’s a positive image for me at least, pregnant with possibility.

If only I could read Japanese, perhaps I would understand better.

PS – Many thanks to my friend Jim for lending this most excellent book to me.

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3 Comments

  1. crispmorning

    i’m intrigued by the book.

  2. reddersss

    i have just finished reading this today, after getting slowly completely immersed in it, as you described.

    and i agree almost completely with your conclusion. he travelled for a month to clear his head, but returned feeling exactly the same. then he slept with reiko, whom was clothed in naoko’s attire, and possessed the same physique as her. and he slept with her 4 times (which apparently is the japanese numeric equivalent of 13, and symbolic of death). he was essentially saying goodbye to naoko in a morally questionnable manner. then reiko and he parted, with the knowledge they would probably never meet again.

    then we come to the last paragraph… i just don’t see it as quite so optimistic as yourself! he’s trying to move on – pull himself up from the inner world in which naoko was trapped (reference to “the well” also), but he’s doing it too quickly. he’s in limbo (the “place that was no place”), caught between the dark well and the life-affirming rooftop of midori, as you so aptly described. everyone is a blur around him. i see this moment as the same as when he returned from his month-long trip. he went away / slept with reiko to gain perspective and say goodbye, however, he still hasn’t managed it.

    the importance of this scene, and the optimism one can derive therefrom, is that he is CALLING OUT to midori to save him. naoko never sought to be heard (remember the night they had sex – she was talking seemingly to herself), but midori (part of life), always wishes to be heard and responded to. that is the optimism, that is him wanting to reach out as you describe.

    so, essentially, it is uplifting, but that last paragraph is as hopeless and melancholic as the rest of the book. what a truly wonderful read.

    and sorry for rambling so much – didn’t mean to!

    – chris

  3. A H Coen

    Thank you for this. I just finished it not more than 5 minutes ago. Closed the book, slammed it down onto the bed, and yelled, WTF??

    Then proceeded to google.

    Now after reading your take on it. I think midori has become his link to the normal world, just as he was for kizuki and naoko.

    man. what a ride.

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