Last night after dinner as we were cleaning up the kitchen, my husband asks me in a conversational tone, "So what's this new book about?" and I thought for a minute and then said, "Death. I think it's just about death." Unlike 1Q84 which I thought in a lot of ways was about life and rebirth and beginnings (Air of Chrysalis for God's sake), this novel is just enmeshed with death. "Death exists, not as the opposite but as a part of life." and "By living our lives, we nurture death."
In an effort to be complete we have: Kizuki, Naoko's sister, Naoko, Midori's mother and father, and Hatsumi all dying throughout the novel (or are dead at the beginning, but their loss profoundly affects the characters). This book is simply about the loss of loved ones and the way that death is entwined with life.
Midori has (unlike Toru) been mostly exposed to slow death through illness and she (understandably) says: "That's the kind of death that frightens me. The shadow of death slowly, slowly eats away at the region of life, and before you know it everything's dark and you can't see, and the people around you think of you as more dead than alive. I hate that. I couldn't stand it."
Toru's closest friends (both Kizuki and Naoko) commit suicide, leaving him reeling each time. Althought Naoko's suicide is the less surprising, it affects him more strongly. He contemplates that "People leave strange little memories of themselves behind when they die."
I found the dialogue to be rather stiff and (as in 1Q84) kind of like the dialogue found in video games. The characters oftentimes would say things that (at least in American culture) are way to obvious and lack natural subtlety. I was also struck by the frankness of the sexual discussions. I wasn't sure if this was a comment on the late 1960s (free sex reigned worldwide) or if this is just Murakami's "little boy" fantasies, but I was surprised by the frankness of the woman and their graphic discussions.
I was also bothered by Midori's cookie philosophy: "You know how they've got these cookie assortments, and you like some but you don't like others? And you eat up all the ones you like, and the only ones left are the ones you don't like so much? I always think about that when something painful comes up. 'Now I just have to polish these off, and everything'll be OK.' Life is a box of cookies." This book was first published in 1987, the book on which Forest Gump (I have not read it, but am going on the movie here) is based was published in 1986. I find it unbelievable that Murakami just coincidentally had the same thought: "Life is a box of chocolates."
A few of my favorite quote are below:
"To think. To understand. It just happens to be the way I'm made. I have to write things down to feel I fully comprehend them." I like this quote and I have worked through things myself through the process of writing them down, but I didn't like that this novel was written as a flashback as his almost 40 year old self lands in German. Why the hell doesn't Murakami ever take us back to the "old" Toru? Rather than respect Murakami for not wrapping up all the loose ends (usually that annoys me), I was kind of frustrated in this one because we never re-visited Toru on the plane. Where was he going? Is he married to Midori? I probably would have not minded if the novel just started in 1969, but since we had a flashback, I felt like I wanted some more resolution.
"If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. That's the world of hicks and slobs. Real people would be ashamed of themselves doing that." I love this plug for originality.
"Dostoyevsky wrote on gambling? It's like that. When you're surrounded by endless possibilities, one of the hardest things you can do is pass them up." I'm not sure where this occurs in Dostoyevsky (and I should probably re-read Crime and Punishment at least), but I like this concept.
"'What makes us most normal,' said Reiko, 'is knowing that we're not normal.'" Every snowflake is unique and we can't all be (nor should we want to be) carbon copies of the others.
"The trick to teaching children like that is not to praise them too much....And you can't force anything on them. You have to let them choose for themselves. And you don't let them rush ahead from one thing to the next: you make them stop and think." Great advice for dealing with gifted kids.
Overall it was entertaining, compelling, and moving at times. Definitely a worthwhile read.