So I have decided to be a Murakami fan. And this book made me do it. Not because it's the best one I've read of his thus far, even though it is. But because Murakami's voice is becoming a familiar one, and I'm liking it. Of course, a big part of that voice is that of translator Jay Rubin. And then there are the voices of his characters, each one distinct and to me quite endearing.
Toru Watanabe narrates in a voice reflective of Nick Carraway's in The Great Gatsby, Toru's favorite book. His is a voice that tries to subdue itself as the other characters assert themselves, loudly, emotionally. Just a few steps away from being a fly in the wall, he observes life around him and lets the other characters move him. He moves as the seemingly sane and stable character in a sea of broken souls.
I fell in love with the most broken among them, Naoko. Naoko and her beautiful sadness. And her hair slide. And her troubled past. And her attempts to set her life right in an asylum where the objective is not just to "correct the deformation" in their characters but to recognize and accept them, and still continue to live. "That's what distinguishes us from the outside world: most people go about their lives unconscious of their deformities, while in this little world of ours the deformities are a precondition. Just as Indians wear feathers on their heads to show what tribe they belong to, we wear our deformities in the open. And we live quietly so as not to hurt one another." She makes me think about my deformities, those I acknowledge and those I hide.
Like Toru, I was also torn between Naoko and Midori. Midori, the light against Naoko's dark spirit, the one who represents hope amid and despite a life filled with death and pain. Lively, wild, offbeat, her voice is a necessary one in a novel that would otherwise be too dismal for enjoyment. Her quirky language, her micro-minis, her bizarre dreams, her even stranger daydreams and fantasies, all lovable.
And then there's Reiko, the one who should have had the life of a successful pianist. Instead, she lives her days in an asylum to escape the outside world, a world which has battered her soul. Her voice is the most musical of all in a novel that's typical Murakami, heavily spiked with music. Reiko plays her guitar for her healing as much as for the healing of others around her. The Beatles' Norwegian Wood is among her repertoire.
There are other voices as well. The voice of Japanese youth in the 60s. Nagasawa's (Toru's college buddy and sexcapades mentor), charismatic, intelligent. The world is his for the taking, and he takes all that he possibly can. Kizuki's (Toru's childhood best friend and Naoko's boyfriend) voice from the dead, that continues to haunt and affect Toru's and Naoko's life.
But Toru speaks back to Hizuki: Hey there, Kizuki. Unlike you I've chosen to live - and to live the best I know how. Sure, it was hard for you. What the hell, it's hard for me. Really hard. And all because you killed yourself and left Naoko behind. But that's something I will never do. I will never, ever, turn my back on her. First of all, because I love her, and because I'm stronger than she is. And I'm just going on getting stronger. I'm going to mature. I'm going to be an adult. Because that's what I have to do... I have to pay the price to go on living.
These voices haunt me even weeks after the reading. And I've got Murakami to blame for it.