Top positive review
Difficult but beautiful
Reviewed in the United States on January 31, 2014
Cold. I feel cold. My mouth is dry, my hands are shaking, and I feel my heart beating in an angry irregular cadence.
It seems as though Hajime was right when he said that, “what’s missing never changes. The scenery may change, but I’m still the same old incomplete person,” and right now I feel the stab of my own incompleteness nearly as acutely as when that “something inside me was [first] severed, and disappeared. Silently. Forever.” For a book overflowing with decelerations of love and some of the most perfectly over-the-top admissions of the power of desire… the need to yearn… the want to need… to seek “the sense of being tossed about by some raging, savage force, in the midst of which lay something absolutely crucial,” or to “want to be bowled over by something special,” it has done a surprisingly good job of crushing a heart that has been continually struggling to keep beating in the face of its own ineffectuality.
This novel drips with foreboding foreshadowing; I am not surprised by the outcome, but Murakami was able to keep me desperately hanging on to a misplaced sense of hope. I wanted this novel to surprise me as much as I hope to be surprised by life. I’ve been able to extricate pieces of that hope from most of what I have encountered lately… extricate them and hold them as some kind of “vague dream” or a “burning unfulfilled desire.” This was, however, a vicious slap of the reality in which I feel most people are likely to find themselves in the end. It was a resounding pronouncement that this “vague dream” is simply “the kind of dream people have only when they’re seventeen,” and an acknowledgment that the youthful exuberance that gives rise to such sentiment is destined to decay and be relegated to the status of immature naivety.
This is the first Murakami book I have read. It was a chance encounter… I stumbled into this as much as Hajime stumbled into his own “accidental family.” “If it hadn’t rained then, if [he] had taken an umbrella, [he] never would have met her,” and if I had clicked a different link or at a different time, I wouldn’t be here trying to claw my way through a frustratingly thorough deconstruction of the story I’ve been so carefully trying to craft for myself. Murakami is an extremely talented writer; this was a very powerful story from which I absolutely could not tear myself until the very last page. A last page that left me desperate for something more. Something hopeful. But I, instead, am left with a sense of defeated acceptance. He weaves a difficult tale vacillating between the search to “discover… something special that existed just for me,” the simple acceptance that, “I don’t want to be lonely ever again,” and finally the realization that, “no one will weave dreams for me – it is my turn to weave dreams for others. Such dreams may have no power, but if my life is to have any meaning at all, that is what I have to do.”
Hajime is no obvious protagonist, and the reader is continually challenged to choose between “becoming someone new and correcting the errors of my past” and hoping that a truth already exists in a place “where I was loved and protected. And where I could love and protect others – my wife and children – back.” I fervently believe that, “you love who you love,” and that there’s “not much anyone can do about it,” and so I also want to believe that people do not succumb to that very real fear of being alone only to end up in a situation in which they are, “at least not unhappy and not lonely.” The question to, “Are you happy?” should be a wholehearted, “Yes!” In essence this was a story of a quest for that “yes,” and I think it painted a very real picture of the trials experienced in the midst of that journey and the confusion we face in determining what our own individual “yes” should be.
The melancholia this story instilled in me stems from the fact that it paints such a bleak and absurdist picture of this search. If Hajime wasn’t the hero, it certainly wasn’t Shimamoto, and Yukiko was, for the majority of the story, simply incidental, so it fell (for me) on the shoulders of Love itself to bear the weight of the Sisyphusian boulder this journey became. Murakami wanted me to believe in Love, its eternal nature (“Nothing can change it. Special feelings like that should never, ever be taken away.”), its undeniability (“Maybe, but I did meet you. And we can’t undo that… I don’t care where we end up; I just know I want to go there with you.”), and its power to leave us empty. (“I didn’t feel like I was in my own body; my body was just a lonely, temporary container I happened to be borrowing.”) Yet it was the importance of remembering the transient nature of all things that got lost amid the assertions of the immutable nature of Love. The author again (“Some things just vanish, like they were cut away. Others fade slowly into the mist.”) and again (“Whatever has form can disappear in an instant.”) put this notion on display and despite the fact that, “certain feelings stay with us forever,” we, like all things, must also change. Not, as I’m afraid this leads me to believe, to simply accept the lack of something for which we yearn, but also to allow ourselves to see it in places we’d never have believed it existed.
It was up to Hajime to, “find a new place, grab hold of a new life, a new personality” to make this story work. Despite the past and the connection shared between Hajime and Shimamoto I could never bring myself to truly want to see that love realized in a way that would destroy the life he had chosen to create with Yukiko… Yukiko who, in the face of her own father’s tacit acceptance of Hajime’s expected infidelity, (is this cultural?) continued to stand by her husband no matter how hard the rain fell. Nor did I want to see Hajime fall back into his relationship with Yukiko in a sort of de facto existence. Someone, no matter the outcome, was going to be destroyed. I wanted to see a true Love blossom at the end yet the final result felt like a simple admission that the “real” Love Hajime used to know with Shimamoto could not be recaptured in his adult life. The slight glimmer of hope we are given at the very end feels like a hope in acceptance rather than a hope for any kind of true Love. That is just not the hope that I want to have; I would rather continue staring at the “rain falling on the sea” with no hand resting lightly on my shoulder than live with “all strength drained from my body, as if someone had snuck up behind me and silently pulled the plug.” There are, perhaps, “lots of different ways to die,” and it may be true that, “in the end that doesn’t make a bit of difference,” but there are surely not “lots of different ways to live.” There is one way – I don’t think I can accept that chasing boulders down a hill is truly living.
I loved that this book had the effect that it did. Especially in that it made me work hard to find something I wanted to take away from it. I will, without question, return to this author in the future – an experience I await with great anticipation.