Book Review

Norwegian Wood: one bright book of life

Muhammad kamruzzamann | Published: 00:00, Jun 23,2019

Book Review

Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood (1987) is set in Tokyo of 1960, when like many other countries, students there were protesting at the established order of the society. On the backdrop of this, Murakami, through a first-person narrative, sketches a story of loses and adolescent sexuality, reviews Muhammad kamruzzamann

TERRY Eagleton, in his ‘The Rise of English,’ writes, ‘If Life was creatively at work anywhere then it was in the writings of D. H. Lawrence’. Particularly, Terry, here, talks about English fiction and the continuation of the particular writing tradition.

In addition, Lawrence, in his ‘Why the Novel Matters,’ affirms the superiority of ‘Novel’ as a literary genre and of Novelist as well. He writes, ‘… being a novelist, I consider myself superior to the saint, the scientist, the philosopher, and the poet … [because they] are all great masters of different bits of [hu]man alive, but never get the whole hog.’

And Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood is one such novel that leaves its readers in search of the meaning of different shades of life and living. This piece of writing is an attempt to narrate a few discourses depicted in Murakami’s chef-d'oeuvre.

The song and the title             

The song, ‘Norwegian Wood,’ triggered Toru’s memory of Naoko and Kizuki, as he recalled, ‘… all I had lost in the course of my life: times [are] gone forever, friends who had died or disappeared, feelings I would never know again.’

The memory of love and loss is the central theme of the novel and the song, likewise, advocates similar thoughts. Interestingly, the song, ‘Norwegian Wood,’ and the novel, Norwegian Wood, both are products of recalling the memories of the past.

‘I once had a girl | Or should I say she once had me,’ these two lines can be linked with Toru’s memory of loving and losing Naoko, because Toru once had Naoko, and she once had him as well, but, ultimately, they were separated, as narrated in the song, ‘And when I awoke I was alone | This bird had flown.’

The line, ‘This bird had flown,’ can be associated with Naoko’s sudden disappearance after her 20th birthday celebration, as well as with her suicide — the ultimate disappearance.

Id and Naoko-Kizuki situation

Sigmund Freud, in his The Question of Lay Analysis, writes, ‘… their [children’s] ego is feeble and little differentiated from their id to begin with, during their first years of childhood,’ and their powerless ego ‘cannot control’ id, as ‘it does not yet possess enough strength to do so’.

Similarly, Naoko and Kizuki, at their early ages, ‘… were just doing what … [they] supposed to do’. Undoubtedly, in the absence of strong ego and superego, the development of id, in both Naoko and Kizuki, was quite ‘a problematic one’.

During their childhood and puberty, they transgressed the boundary — the existing social order regarding the norms of sexual behaviour of the youth/teen ages — because they had never thought of that their kissing and other physicalities as wrong actions.

Usually, kids are not associated with the social restrictions and, at the same time, their indifferentness towards the social orders helps them to grow in the absence of an active superego. For Naoko, in her childhood, her openness with Kizuki was never considered as wrong, rather, for her, it was meant to happen between them.

It was usual to them because Naoko and Kizuki had developed their id, the pleasure principle, under no conventional system of rules.

The repressed in the unconscious of Naoko

‘There was something strange about her [Naoko] becoming 20,’ says Toru. It was Naoko’s age, 20, that is transgressing, according to Naoko, the period of teenage and she feels is not ready for it, because Kizuki, the childhood boyfriend of Naoko, died at his age of 17. Kizuki’s death has shattered Naoko from inside and it leaves its everlasting effect on her because they never could think of themselves as separate beings. In fact, they considered that they are physically joined somewhere.

Naoko could not get out of this oneness, not even after Kizuki’s death. It is because Naoko could not bring her out of her fantasised-world, and, when it was time for her, after Kizuki’s death, to move on, to become practical about her life by excluding Kizuki — the god of 17 —Naoko remains the same, entangled with her fantasy-world — the memories of a dead-living man — that has shaped a wall between reality and fantasy. As she could not get out of the labyrinth, she suffers.

The night Naoko turns 20, she makes love with Toru, and this very first and last lovemaking of Naoko creates a complex within herself because it was supposed to happen with Kizuki; Naoko’s body was only for Kizuki, but it never opened for him.

On that night, turning 20, leaving the phase of a teen, makes Naoko really upset because she is no more a teenager and it means, she is little separated from Kizuki, the ever-teen boy, as she comments, ‘[Toru] You’re so lucky! Still 19!’ and, at the same time, the repressed memory of Naoko’s lovemaking with Toru, eventually, turns out to be a catastrophic event in Naoko’s life that, with time, forms psychosomatic and psychosexual disorders — a body-mind uneasiness.

The notion of split-self

Toru writes to Reiko, ‘I have always loved Naoko, and I still love her. But there is a decisive finality to what exists between Midori and me…. What I feel for Naoko is a tremendously quiet and gentle and transparent love, but what I feel for Midori is a wholly different emotion’. These words clarify that Toru has a double personality, otherwise, he would not have written the letter after asking Naoko, in the sanatorium, ‘How about coming to Tokyo to live with me …’?

On the other hand, after Naoko’s suicide, Toru becomes indifferent towards Midori, and cannot bring him out of the melancholia, but when Naoko had started improving her condition to be with Toru, Toru developed something special for Midori.

Naoko does not want to transgress her teenage, because she considers, with her turning 20, she might surpass herself from her childhood boyfriend, Kizuki, who committed suicide at his 17. Naoko does not want to turn 20 after 19, she wants to return to 18, a little close to Kizuki’s age.

But on the same night, she makes love with Toru, though she never could make love with Kizuki. Firstly, she does not want to turn 20, as it might push her little away from Kizuki, but, at the same time, allows Toru to make love.

Contrastingly, after making love with Toru, she regrets and goes to the sanatorium out of her psychological disorder, but again in the sanatorium, she tries to make love with Toru. After meeting Toru several times, Naoko felt to return to the normal life, and her condition was improved, but later, suddenly, she committed suicide.

These happenings refer to Naoko’s dual personality that ultimately brought the destruction.

The price of living

In Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, Naoko, and Toru, as well as a few others like Reiko, and Midori, pay the price of living, on the other hand, in Arundhuti Roy’s The God of Small Things, characters like, Estha, Rahel, Ammu, Velutha and Margaret as well have to pay the price of living.

Naoko, after Kizuki’s death, could not lead a normal life, though she tried several times to return to the world of living people to live with Toru. But she could not bring her out of Kizuki, even after his death.

And Naoko’s attempt of starting life anew brings disaster for her body and mind, and ultimately, she commits suicide, pays the price of living. Oppositely, after Kizuki’s dead, Toru gets Naoko, but Naoko’s body-mind complexities have forced her to leave the world of livings and Toru, now, has to pay for his living.

Toru’s price of living is twice more than that of Naoko’s because he lives with the grief of losing friends and beloved.

Similarly, Estha and Rahel, the gods of losing, being the mutual linking elements between the lost — Ammu, Velutha, Sophie Mol, and, mostly, the happiness — pay the price of living. They are left to tolerate the pain of the deaths, hatred of the livings, and humiliation for being alive.

Muhammad kamruzzamann is a student of Jahangirnagar University.

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