If This Is The Last Dance, This Is The Last Dance, Then Save It For Me, Baby
My brother gave me a copy of Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood for Christmas. It's taken me awhile, but I've finally gotten around to reading it and it's turning out to be one of the best reads in the last year or so. I don't know--for the last few years I've gotten into the habit of reading nothing but series. The Dresden Files, The Myron Bolitar Novels, &c...--I've been on a steady diet of characters I can come back to time and time again. However, now I'm rediscovering what it's like to jump into a set of characters' lives for a brief time in their life, only to be forced to jump back out again a few hundred pages later.
According to Wikipedia:
Norwegian Wood is a 1987 novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. The novel is a nostalgic story of loss and sexuality. The story's protagonist and narrator is Toru Watanabe, who looks back on his days as a freshman university student living in Tokyo. Through Toru's reminiscences we see him develop relationships with two very different women — the beautiful yet emotionally troubled Naoko, and the outgoing, lively Midori.
and basically that's what it's about. More than the brief description of its plot, I'm finding it a truly great character study in one of my favorite themes, that of unrequited love. You see, so far, Naoko is turning out to be one of the most detailed embodiments of the fragility of the human psyche. More importantly, she's reminding a great deal of my central character in the story I'm trying to write, The Carisa Meridian. Like him, Naoko is introduced as having been in love in her youth. She is described as having been in love with Toru's childhood best friend, Kizuki. Like my main character, Naoko's world is turned upside-down when this great love of her life dies. In her case, Kizuki commits suicide, which is all the more traumatic. And like my main character, a good deal of her struggles stems from the fact she's not entirely sure she can ever love anyone else the way she loved this first and only relationship she's ever had.
A good deal of me is rather jealous of the fact someone can take the same basic themes I'm writing and craft something infinitely more sublime and haunting with it. It's not often that I enjoy seeing someone succeed so brilliantly at something I find challenging. But I can't deny the fact that the novel is just a great work of art. I have no choice but to put aside my petty jealousy since it's patently obviously this, with a few tweaks, is basically the novel I want to write myself.
I don't know what it is about novels where the main characters are always haunted by a former flame, which complicates their present relationships, but that always seems to be the kind of stories I'm drawn to. Before She Met Me by Julia Barnes is one of my favorite books ever. It deals with a guy whose so haunted by this great love of his that he tracks down each and every single relationship she had before meeting him. High Fidelity, a favorite of both me and Breanne, deals entirely with someone whose past relationships set up a vicious cycle of never being happy with someone as they are and, instead, comparing them to some mythical scale of perfection. Maybe it's just my love of stories that center around someone "wistful and forlorn" for a better time, a better place, a better person, but I can't get enough of people who can't seem to be happy because they can't ever recapture that moment when they used to be happy.
What I like about Norwegian Wood is that, unlike my book, the central character isn't the disaffected one. Rather the novel is told from the viewpoint of the one who's willing to love her, but can't seem to break through. It's as if Tierney from my book was writing the same story. It's illuminating, at least for me, to see it from the other side of a relationship that is so tough to characterize. I mean--I always thought if one were to tell this type of story that the only way to do it would be to tell it from the viewpoint of the individual doing the shutting out rather than the person being shut out, but now I see there's a lot to be mined from seeing it from the person whose most often the quiet one. I can now see the difficulty in loving someone that much and being compelled to stand by him or her in stoic silence. Toru can't leave Naoko any more than Tierney can leave the protagonist of my book. It doesn't matter how much it hurts him, it doesn't matter how much it kills him inside; you can't choose who you fall in love with any more than you can choose to walk away from that person when they've done nothing wrong to you.
I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me...
I don't know how the story will end since I'm only halfway through. I'd like to see Toru end up with Naoko, despite her hang-ups, because it's the ending that I have planned for my own novel. Yes, it's hard being in love with someone who's still in love with somebody that once lost, but it would satisfy my own curiosity to see if such an ending can be pulled off eloquently enough to be believable. Or maybe it's just the romantic in me that would like to see Toru happy after being put through the emotional wringer for so long. Admittedly, it doesn't look good for him since the way the novel's framed as him looking back twenty years prior (just like my novel, by the way), but I'm still holding out hope.
Two people that in love deserve to be together, despite how great their being apart makes the story.