It’s a Beatles song about an enigma of a girl.
“A riddle wrapped in an enigma.” – Norwegian Wood
It’s also a novel written by Japanese author Haruki Murakami.
For a week, while I read this book, I was swept away into the world of Toru, a young nineteen-year-old boy, who is dealing with loss and heartache and sex and love and finding himself among people who…have problems.
But who doesn’t have problems?
This book didn’t exactly have the craziest plot twists. It didn’t keep me on the literal edge of my seat. What it did do is stir emotion inside of me that I didn’t know I had. It was a steady story, much like life – when taken a certain way- and Murakami created a novel in which the reader feels similarly to the protagonist. There were times when I felt as if my mind were his, his was mine. I wanted to see the girl from school again. I wanted to know why people had left me behind. I wanted to know why I was worth loving…. and why the passing hours of the day only grow harder to bear sometimes.
“Every once in a while she’ll get worked up and cry like that. But that’s OK. She’s letting her feelings out. The scary thing is not being able to do that. Then your feelings build up and harden and die inside. That’s when you’re in big trouble.” – Reiko
The setting is this: Toru, now a grown man, has a flashback to a girl, Naoko, he promised not to forget. The entire book is a flashback, though that’s easy to forget. In a way, isn’t all of life one big flashback? Living in the present takes guts and stamina. No one can keep it up 100% of the time.
As a young man Toru is in love with Naoko. She isn’t completely mentally stable. What the problem is exactly, isn’t known. Just like in life. And though she wonders why he cares about her… why he won’t give up… his answer is this: “So what’s wrong if there happens to be one guy in the world who enjoys trying to understand you?”
I thought that was one of the sweetest things I’d ever read. I know I want to be understood. I’m sure you want to be understood, too. It only takes one person getting you to make life more complete. Some of us have found that one person. Some of us are still waiting. And sometimes that person comes out of nowhere, taking us completely by surprise, causing us to ask one simple question: “Where did you come from?”
Where did this book come from???? (I ask, because I love it so much and can’t believe I hadn’t already read it.)
One fictional character I’d love to get to know even better is Reiko. She’s older. She’s full of deep wrinkles. She’s been at a mental facility for years and years. She is an excellent musician. She’s wise. She’s even sexy, when it comes right down to it. She’s an incessant smoker. She is wise, so wise.Reading this book, I was most struck by the idea of “being the scratchy stuff on the side of the matchbox.”
This is how Reiko describes herself. She knows she is an excellent teacher. She knows she can inspire people to be better versions of themselves. She might not be the flame, but she is what can allow the flame to catch.
So then I thought: “Is it better to be the scratchy stuff, or the match?”
I once wrote a blog about being your own catalyst. I’d been told that I was the scratchy stuff (in a way… of course, that exact phrase wasn’t used.) I had issues with being a catalyst for someone else rather than my own. I wanted to inspire myself. I wanted to have that kind of power. Not until reading Norwegian Wood and meeting the character Reiko did it occur to me that there needs to be both kinds of people in this world. It also hadn’t occurred to me that we can be these types of people at different times, depending on who we run into. That’s the beauty of love and friendship and relationships. We’re all constantly pushing each other to be better. Sometimes we need a shove. Sometimes we have the wherewithall and stability in our own lives to finally, finally, give someone else a nudge for a change.
After all that high and mighty talk about being my own catalyst, it took a simple question from someone else to get me to change certain aspects of my life. A question (or two) as simple as, “Do you want to leave? What do you want to get away from?” made me realize that all the signs were there — that a change was coming and I’d better be prepared. I’m thankful for this new catalyst.
But back to Toru, the young boy. He’s a sweetheart. A real genuine gentleman.
“A gentleman is someone who does not what he wants to do, but what he should do.” -Nagasawa, Toru’s friend
He’s even kind enough to keep around a girl who pretty much only talks about strange sexual situations, ones she imagines herself in and ones she simply considers to be interesting, and keeps drama high with ignoring and giving the silent treatment time and again (even when he deserves it), which is exactly what Midori does. While the girl he loves (Naoko) is in a place for mental instability, this girl who is unstable in other ways enters his life. Toru never mistreats anyone. He tries to stay true to his word. For a 19 year old kid, he certainly does a good job.
He’s the kind of character we don’t mind following around. The kind of guy who might lose it at any moment, yet keeps himself calm in even the worst of circumstances. Looking at him, you wouldn’t necessarily know he’s a complete wreck. Then, once again, he’s isn’t a complete wreck… he’s helping someone else get better. I loved Toru because he represented a great life lesson — that you never know what’s going through someone else’s mind. The most cool, calm and collected person could be raging inside with fear and doubt and dread. They could be a blank slate, through and through. The point is, we just never know.
You should take time to read Norwegian Wood. Be prepared for the darkness to seep in at some points. Be prepared to underline those sentences and let them soak into your soul and change you. You know how there are those quotes about “the perfect sentence?” Well, this book is full of ’em. Just take a look.
“Life is like a box of cookies.”
Bet you want to know what that means, right?