RAL - Norwegian Wood (5-6)


YOU GUYS, I am befuddled.  I am at a crossroad.  I am STILL staring at this book trying to find a way to write this post even though I read the chapters yesterday.  
Naoka finally contacts the forlorn Toru in this extensive letter where she claims she is healthy enough for human contact and HE was the one that immediately she wanted to talk to.  And also, about that time we got it on, we'll have to talk about that because I really do need to explain why I had a nervous breakdown.  She then invites him to her sanctuary, the sanitarium.  Toru quickly obliges and makes arrangements to travel the distance to see her.

Upon arrival at sanitarium, he is introduced to a doctor, who isn't really a doctor, but really Naoka's roommate - Reiko.  Reiko embraces Toru and catches him up to speed on how things are done.  

Naoka and Toru meet and there's conversations, nervous breakdowns, and some sexytimes.  All in all, not the poster child for a healthy relationship.  

I'm still on the fence with Naoka.  Her craziness is subtle (except when she's having a nervous breakdown).  But what owned these chapters were Reiko.  Man, that lady kicked some major arse.  I loved her this-is-the-way-it-is mentality and teasing.  She almost seems normal, you know.  Until you find out she's been there for seven years with no ambition to leave.  

So on with the insights, awkward as they might be.

First, what is up with this codependent relationship that Toru has with Naoka?  (And possible his buddy who offed himself?) I mean, you know it's pretty obvious when Naoka points out that he consistently finds the deformed and embraces them in his life.  When your wannabe GF calls you out on it and you're all like, "what, what are you talking about?" maybe you should examine yourself.  I mean, let's face it...Toru has some issues, clearly, on his own.  I mentioned in last Tuesday's commentary that he manages to interact with Life, but only in the sense of Other.  I feel like I should rephrase that...because you're not really interacting if you're not feeling anything and the only time it seems like we see any emotion is with Naoka.  Or in these chapters, Reiko.

And speaking of Reiko. . . man, was anyone else amazed at her story?  I absolutely friggin' love how she answers the question of being a lesbian with a "yes and no".  It's not always clear people.  Murakami makes a wonderful point using this character that her strong emotions for females is not universal, but specific, and that she's pretty okay with an abstinent lifestyle.  So what do you think?  Do you think she's committed herself because she had a lesbian experience or because her neighbors found out she'd been in the crazy house a couple of times prior?  I mean, yes, I know, I know that she had a breakdown which led her to the sanatorium, but what brought on that breakdown...

I have to admit that I had to continuously remind myself that this story was written in the 1960's.  And it opens in present-day, 1960-1970's-ish which means that when Toru visits with this two ladies, let's delete a couple of decades.  Man, I know in the US us women-folk were under some crazy restraints (remember your  women's history class?  hysteria? The Yellow Wallpaper? Oh, what you have strong emotions, you need some bedrest!) 

I reread the back of my copy again yesterday and noticed that Norwegian Wood is considered a "coming of age" tale.  I'm unsure if I agree with this.  We're about half way through the book and I don't really see any character progression.  I'm gonna assume it's there since, when the novel opens, we meet Toru in his late forties (was it?)

I also thought it was interesting that Naoka believes that her unhappiness is something she owes the world because her childhood was so innocent and easy.  It's an interesting idea, that the universe asks for retribution for life of ease.  

Oh and one final thought...the commentary that the lines of patient and doctor blurs is perhaps my favorite insight from the author in these chapters.  I love that it's pointed out that just because the doctor's, in our society, are considered experts, in reality, they're really not.  They have their own deformities just like everyone.  Whilst in graduate school, that was the major reason for my fondness of Narrative Therapy.  I had a wonderful supervisor who believed that experts didn't exit and even the "sickest" clients (and please understand that I'm speaking about mental illness NOT forms of psychosis, or personality disorders) were the true experts in their own lives.  As a therapist, our job was to solely guide them to finding a comfortable foundation for them.  The fact that the patients teach the doctors and vice versa was very astute of Murakami.  

Until next time, cheers!


  1. Yeah, the doctor/patient line was really interesting. And yeah, I'd like to go to that facility for like, three days. But no more than that. Because man, I don't want to have to feed birds.

    She totes committed herself because she was worried about breaking down again. I think Reiko's chill enough to be able to deal with maybe like ladies, but yeah, she seems a bit more asexual than not.

    Oh, this book. I don't know if I'd finish it if the readalong didn't exist. But it's usually good to expose oneself to new authors, yes? Yes...

  2. Not reading along, but I do LOVE this book. I read it several years ago, and it was my first experience with Murakami.

  3. I'm not sure I'd call Norwegian Wood a coming of age tale either... Although maybe something will happen later that means Toru is able to communicate properly with the world again? I don't know, but I hope so!

    I LOVE Reiko too, although I do worry about her kind of non-commital responses to leaving the crazy house... I guess it's just easier to stay where you are than to challenge yourself and maybe worry about having a breakdown again... hmm...

  4. Reiko reminds me of Angelina Jolie's character in "Girl, Interrupted" - she's only so loud and straight-forward to hide how freaking nuts she is.

    I don't like her... I get that being in that hippie commune place is nice, but she's not even trying to get better and leave it, and she has a DAUGHTER. And her whole piano-lesson seduction was kind of ridiculous.

    UGH, this book! I'm glad you're enjoying it though :)

  5. I think Reiko staying in the sanatorium and saying that she has no one waiting for her on the outside and no reason to leave is a cop-out. I get the draw of staying in a place where you are never judged, but it's cowardly. EVERYONE in this book (except maybe Midori) is a giant baby.

    And I say this as someone who actually LIKES Reiko as a character.

  6. I think Reiko went to Ami Hostel because she was dealing with a really horrible situation (although I'm still slightly on the fence about whether she's telling the whole truth). The way she tells it, she was raped by a 13-year-old, but everyone she knows believes the young girl, who is accusing Reiko of rape.

    Plus, she has a history of nervous breakdowns and is dealing with her husband's lack of real concern over her own mental health.

    I don't particularly like Reiko as a character, but I do understand why she would cut herself off from a world that she doesn't trust.

    This whole book is an exercise in unhealthy relationships... But at least it makes for interesting reading!

  7. Thanks for sharing the Narrative Therapy tidbit at the end of your review - I've never though to mentally ill clients to be experts in that way. Of course they would be the true experts of themselves - which explains how Naoko has matured through her self-awareness. It makes me understand her a bit better now :)


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