Let’s Discuss — Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

The night Kizuki died, however, I lost the ability to see death (and life) in such simple terms. Death was not the opposite of  life. It was already here, within my being, it had always been here, and no struggle would permit me to forget that. When it took seventeen-year-old Kizuki that night in May, death took me as well (34)

Norwegian Wood delves into the memories of love, life and death during the young adulthood of a man named Toru. An older Toru reminisces about the time he had relationships with two women, Naoko and Midori. These relationships develop under completely different circumstances and consequently signify unique meanings for Toru.

Toru’s relationship with Naoko is founded in sorrow. A traumatic experience connects them and ironically, it is that same experience which separates them. In grade school Toru’s best and only friend, Kizuki, commits suicide. At this time, Naoko is Kizuki’s girlfriend, and Toru and Naoko are only aware of each other’s presence in Kizuki’s life. A few years later, when Toru and Naoko run into each other in the city, they are drawn to each other because they share similiar feelings of discontent over Kizuki’s passing.

Later, Toru meets another young woman named Midori. Midori is very different from Naoko…she’s outgoing, fun, spontaneous. She ignites something in Toru. Midori reminds Toru he’s alive and she’s alive, and when they are together they are something close to happy. Of course Midori isn’t perfect. She has her own personal issues, but Toru is very understanding and embraces her as she is.

 I didn’t give a damn about the scenery that day. I was thinking about myself. I was thinking about the beautiful girl walking next to me. I was thinking about the two of us together, and then about myself again. It was the age, that time of life when every sight, every feeling, every though came back, like a boomerang to me. And worse, I was in love. Love with complications. Scenery was the last thing on my mind (5)

Where Midori and Naoko really differ are in their futures. Naoko is so affected by suicide* that she becomes very ill and must relocate to a rehabilitation center and eventually to a mental hospital to get well. But Naoko never gets well. She can’t get well…or maybe she just won’t get well. Either way, for Toru to continue a relationship with Naoko would mean having to put his life on hold. It would mean having to stay shrouded in misery, and to a certain degree, a slow and certain death**. But Midori?–having a relationship with Midori would mean Toru chooses to live. To enjoy life in the moment and in the future.

It’s not an easy decision. Does Toru choose life or death?***

* Naoko witnesses her older sister commit suicide, in addition to dealing with her boyfriend’s.

** Figuratively…and quite possibly literally…

*** Normally I loathe open endings…but this one surprised me and I liked it…even though I don’t really understand it. Actually, I don’t understand why Murakami writes half the things he writes– see IQ84.

Let’s Discuss — The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

It was as if what I wanted to kill wasn’t in that skin or the thin blue pulse that jumped under my thumb, but somewhere else, deeper, more secret, and a whole lot harder to get at. It would take two motions. One wrist, then the other wrist. Three motions, if you counted changing the razor from hand to hand. Then I would step into the tub and lie down (147)

In The Bell Jar, Plath gives the reader a disturbing yet poetic look into the life of a young woman who has slipped into the void. Esther Greenwood, who by many standards should be pleased with her life, isn’t. Shortly after interning at a fashion magazine she descends into “madness”. Trapped under the bell jar, suffocating and withering away,  she enters an asylum after attempted suicide.

Is there anything wrong with Esther? Physically–probably not, but the reader won’t know for sure. It’s the emotional stimuli that are most fascinating; the physical reactions are just that. The emotional hollowness Plath secures for the reader is not drawn from the everyday* or a Moody Monday. It seems that Esther can’t help but to have a breakdown. You might get the feeling it’s in her nature, this destructiveness. And yet there’s something about her the reader may relate to; she’s selfish and small talk and other everyday interactions leave her feeling stale. Her internship had her surrounded by silly women all day and she didn’t have to work for anything. She feels displaced and yet she feels nothing, day in and day out.

Flashbacks to her relationship with her quasi-boyfriend, Buddy Willard are important because they build this box** of expectations that Esther was contained within. These expectations Buddy has for them are discouraging (because they are seemingly one-sided). The same can be said for all the interactions Esther has with men*** in this book. Just downright discouraging. I think this aspect of the book is most enduring. That and the descriptions  of Esther’s melancholic, self-destructive nature:

Then I lifted my right hand with the razor and let it drop of its own weight, like a guillotine, onto the calf of my leg. I felt nothing. Then I felt a small, deep thrill, and a bright seam of red welled up at the lip of the slash. The blood gathered darkly, like fruit, and rolled down my ankle into the cup of my black patent leather shoe (148)


Cobwebs touched my face with the softness of moths. Wrapping my black coat round me like my own sweet shadow, I unscrewed the bottle of pills and started taking them swiftly, between gulps of water, one by one by one…The silence drew off, baring the pebbles and shells and all the tatty wreckage of my life. Then, at the rim of vision, it gathered itself, and in one sweeping tide, rushed me to sleep (169)

The novel is filled with these passages. Lovely, aren’t they? By the end we see Esther improve somewhat, and it seems she will most likely leave the asylum and reenter the world she rejected.

* This novel is semi-autobiographical

**Bell Jar, another figurative bell jar.

***I am sure there is feminist discourse in this piece, but I’m not qualified nor interested to delve into that school of thought.