Sunday, August 26, 2007

The sword of time will pierce our skins

I completed Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami this afternoon. It was not the most cheerful read to pass before these eyes: a tangible sense of loss, death and melancholic nostalgia lingers throughout the pages. The characters were beautifully observed and the acute and finely crafted detail that the author brought to conversations and settings added so much to the understanding of the actions of the key players. Journeys, rooms, meals: all were meticulously portrayed and often one imagined oneself sat at the next table or on the same street as the narrator Watanabe and I found this extremely worthwhile. A guy at the Green Man Festival who saw me reading the book told me he had travelled to Tokyo having vividly admired the descriptions of the city within the work. I can appreciate this but it was the evocation of a particular era that I found most fulfilling. It was not just in Paris and The West that student unrest was prevalent during the late 1960s and I found the passages that dealt with strikes and demonstrations at Tokyo University rather rewarding. When the Tokyo sit-ins were brought to an end, it transpired, to my amusement, that the young Japanese activists had kept the colleges spotlessly tidy during their occupation.

The ‘soundtrack’ of the book is appealing and as the characters interact and play their sounds, one can’t help but hear Bacharach, The Beatles, Henry Mancini and Miles Davis cascading in one’s mind. I can’t usually read and listen to music at the same time but I read the last few chapters with Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet and John Coltrane’s Blue Train on my headphones and the moods and complexities of the playing complemented the words well. This is a book that lays bare the fragility of the human condition; all the characters are unsettled, unhappy and deeply flawed and indicate a mixture of selfishness, self-obsession and deepest sensitivity throughout. A fairly open-ended denouement hinted that beyond the final page lurked more uncertainty and darkness and I like to think that the author imagined the complexities continuing. Watching such a fascinating collection of characters interact and cause varying degrees of mayhem and misery to each other proved an uncomfortable but ultimately satisfying journey. It was worth the the ride.

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