You’re standing in an open field, listening to the birds, watching the crop sway. And then, without warning, a train hits you from the behind. There are no horns, no warning signs,… heck, there isn’t even a train track! The Murakami phenomenon hits you like that.
‘After the Quake’ was my first experience of Murakami, but I don’t remember it too much. I would have even forgotten about the author had my friend, Kedar, not urged me consistently to read ‘Norwegian Wood’. He made it sound like I was missing out on some extraordinary magic trick. So I conceded. But when I started the book, I was prepared to be resentful of both, the book and the author, which have become “international bestsellers”. Yes, I treat that term with extreme suspicion and hostility. But I started to read anyway, and before I knew it, BANG! came the train.
I’m still not sure what it was about the book that took my breath away. In Murakami’s own words, the story was meant to be a simple love story, which it was. I think it may have been the language. Yes, it definitely was the language. Murakami’s words don’t walk the ground; they float two inches off it. I could fill three pages here with memorable lines from the book – lines that speak of perfectly mundane things, yet are achingly elegant. You know, like “I am the scratchy side of a matchbox.”
And then there are the characters. Vast, complex, sweet, twisted, yet comprehensible characters. Characters that are whole stories in themselves. All protagonists of the moment. The 19-year-old Toru Watanabe – a young, ordinary man flung into extraordinary relationships, the vulnerable Naoko – sailing together the boats of the past and the present, the inimitable Midori, the sad-funny Reiko and other minor characters like Kizuki, Nagasawa and Hatsumi are all deep chasms unto themselves. And then there are the miasmic relationship triangles – relationships so complex, only real life could rival them. With layered interactions between Kizuki-Naoko-Watanabe, Naoko-Watanabe-Midori, Reiko-Naoko-Watanabe or even Nagasawa-Watanabe-Hatsumi, Murakami goes on reminding the reader that relationships are not linear arrangements.
Murakami paints love mostly in colours of pathos, but it is not without its moments of joy and brazen sexuality. Despite the pain of loss and longing, desires find a way of surfacing in Murakami’s characters. Much like life. Watanabe’s deep, poetic love for Naoko co-exists with his sleeping with multitudes of strange women. Reiko’s ‘guardianship’ of Watanabe does not stop her from sleeping with him as a simple act of intimacy. The beginnings of Midori’s love for Watanabe have no bearing on her relationship with her boyfriend.
As I moved along the pages of the novel, I wondered if such poignant love was possible for teenaged characters. Then I remembered that such love, unmarked by pragmatism, is possible ONLY for teenaged characters. It reminded me how wonderful and painful youth is. Murakami’s writing is crushing in its honesty, and clarity, which is perhaps why it has gone on to become one of his best-loved works. Go, read the book, Youtube the Beatles’ song that this book borrows its title from, watch the movie, find your connections, lend ears your aching parts. Let that train run over you.