Murakami is one of the few writers I have come across who is able to pack so many feelings into his text with the use of simple words and simple sentences. This ability is on display in his work, Norwegian Wood. Often times it is what you don’t include in the story that matters. Murakami seems to know exactly what to omit and this leaves behind these blunt sentences that get straight to the point and when you read them, not only do you see the story unraveling in your mind, you can see the characters sitting around talking to one another, watch the subtle gestures, observe the conditioned habits but on top of that, you feel as if you are part of the scene. You are not a distant viewer, an omniscient presence, rather, you are there sitting alongside the characters and they are not characters, they are people you know.
With this in mind, Norweigian Wood can come across as a bit depressing. After all, there is much discussion of trauma and suicide and general struggles of life. These themes are prevalent in many of Marukami’s work and perhaps it is the fact that he is not afraid to go into the darkness and try to understand it, that I find his text to be so attractive.
Amidst the trauma and sadness is the truth. Where there is suffering, there is also the relief. Or at least the possibility of relief. This possibility also keeps hope alive. That one-day things can be better.
The main character, Toru Watanabe, is trying to deal with his own troubles, at the same time, trying to understand the troubles of a woman he loves, Naoko. This woman is scared by a childhood incident, who has by this time, has admitted herself into an institution for help. Watanabe only wishes to help Naoko, to understand her, to be her support and yet it is never that simple.
To ease Watanabe’s mind, Reiko, Naoko’s roommate at the institution, gives him two simple pieces of advice after Naoko has another incident and Watanabe is left confused and lost.
“Did I say something I shouldn’t have?” (Watanabe said)
“Not a thing. Don’t worry. Just speak your mind honestly. That’s the best thing. It may hurt a little sometimes, and somebody may get worked up the way Naoko did, but in the long run it’s the best thing. That’s what you should do if you’re serious about making Naoko well again. Like I told you in the beginning, you should think not so much about wanting to help her as wanting to recover yourself by helping her to recover. That’s the way it’s done here. So you have to be honest and say everything that comes to mind while you’re here at least. Nobody does that in the outside world, right?
There are many issues that Naoko is dealing with. Everything piles on together and adds on top of previous unresolved issues. It is never just one thing. You cannot just unplug the drain and watch all the filth get swallowed up and now everything is nice and clean. All the leftover garbage washed away, the baggage, the bits of food clinging to the plastic containers, the feeling of helplessness, all rinsed out by the water afterward. If only it was that easy. Perhaps if it was, then a lot of great art would have never come to be. In reality, people don’t work like that. Life doesn’t work like that.
“The most important thing is not to let yourself get impatient,” Reiko said. “This is one more piece of advice I have for you: don’t get impatient. Even if things are so tangled up you can’t do anything, don’t get desperate or blow a fuse and start yanking on one particular thread before it’s ready to come undone. You have to figure it’s going to be a long process and that you’ll work on things slowly, one at a time. Do you think you can do that?”
What else can you do?