What kind of a love story is presented in the Norwegian Wood?
“Norwegian Wood” depicts love in a rather unconventional and complex way, playing on the duality physical/platonic.
In the first half of the novel, love seems to be defined in a broad, platonic manner. First, we’ve got the “typical” relationship, between Kizuki e Naoko, which actually appears to be extended to Watanabe, forming some sort of affective triangle, though, we’re told, Kizuki and Naoko are particularly close, being really each other’s soulmate. This is no mere love affair, however. The relationship seems to be way more profound, almost transcending the realm of the physical. Even after Kizuki’s suicide, this affective plane is kept solid between Naoko and Watanabe.
Something begins to develop in this story when Watanabe and Naoko get closer, this time physically, revealing the asexual nature of the relationship among the three guys when Watanabe finds out about Naoko’s virginity. Despite this, however, following Holden (2012) here we could also suppose that Naoko’s sexual unresponsiveness might have been the very cause of Kizuki’s suicide, but there doesn’t seem to be much ground for this assumption throughout the rest of the novel.
When Midori comes in the story, we’re faced with an opposite scenario. Unlike Naoko, Midori is a vivid, outgoing character, whose presence and personality speak to the senses and Watanabe gets easily attracted to her. The boy is caught between a dichotomy, unable to take a decision. The two girls, we might say, represent the two faces of love and, in a wider sense, two opposing forces that Murakami stages throughout the book. A psychological dimension, which seems to grow static and crystallized, indeed symbolically confined to a sanatorium and a physical, breezy level which flows through the character of Midori and attracts Watanabe in her energy.
After Watanabe, under the suggestion of Reiko, decides to give a chance to Midori, Naoko commits suicide, definitively withdrawing from the realm of the living. Nonetheless, the girl lingers in the novel, actually slowly fading rather than missing abruptly, as she continues to haunt Watanabe’s heart (“I once had a girl / or should I say she once had me” as they go, not by chance, Beatles’ lines in “Norwegian Wood”).
After a lot of hesitation and regret, eventually, Watanabe chooses to dedicate himself more seriously to Midori, like an affirmation of life against death. The girl, however, leaves us with an enigmatic question: “Where are you know?”, perhaps as a final incitement on what we just discussed, namely if Watanabe is on ”this” side of love (and life) or not, on the side of past, the dead, the tricks of the psyche and platonic affections, or on that of the present, the living and the full spectrum of the senses.
Winterton, B. (2001). Exploring the Map of One’s Inner Existence. Taipei Times. Retrieved from:
Holden, S. (2012). Young Love as Divine, but a Perilious Insanity. New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/06/movies/norwegian-wood-from-haruki-murakami-novel-review.html?_r=0
Pollack, A. W. (1993). Notes on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”. Soundscapes.info. Retrieved fom: http://www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/DATABASES/AWP/nw.shtml