Even before I finished the book, I was already thinking about what to write. I was pretty sure about what was going to happen. It did.
Anyway I was remembering studying existential literature because NW with all its frustrations seems to fall into this category for me. (As an aside I was very surprised to read the note at the end of the novel about the enduring popularity of this book in Japan.)
I looked up a bit of info about existentialism on the web:
“Existentialism … generally held that the focus of philosophical thought should be to deal with the conditions of existence of the individual person and their emotions, actions, responsibilities, and thoughts, … and maintained that the individual is solely responsible for giving their own life meaning and living that life passionately and sincerely in spite of many existential obstacles and distractions including despair, angst, absurdity, alienation and boredom.”
“… existentialists see that the only certainty for each one of us is death, and that the individual must live in the knowledge of that certainty.”
“Prominent themes in existential literature:
• Life is suffering.
• Life is not fair.
• Individual alienation, the loss of a sense of identity, is perpetuated by the labels and categories we use to describe people.
• Individuals are free to choose how they will respond to the painful existence in which they find themselves.
• Because they are free, individuals are also responsible for their own actions.”
I know it’s not a perfect fit, but it makes some sense of the novel for me. I found this last section livelier and quite humourous in parts, but I kept waiting for the news about Naoko.
Thinking back to university, both then and now, I have always found it difficult to respond to existential literature. I always chose the other options for essays and exam answers! It is the isolation, futility and inactivity of the characters’ lives (the swamp, as Toru calls it) that always strikes me. Therefore it is hard to comment on their motivation or actions. In the case of Toru and Midori, I feel at least that they have youth on their side. All of their suffering, and it has been considerable, has occurred in their teenage years. We know that Toru survives because he is our narrator. He has continued as a witness. First, he was the witness to Naoko and Kizuki, and Nagasawa and Hatsumi, and Naoko and Reiko. Now he makes a living as a witness in the form of a journalist.
I also had a thought about the last section on p 293, below the space. I think it is possible that this section takes place in the present, in Toru’s 37th year, and that he and Midori have stayed together on and off all this time. In my imagination I think he never confided in Midori the truth about his past and the influences of all the characters we have come to know. Being overcome emotionally by the song on the plane has signaled to him that he has to start over with her on a basis of truth, even after all these years, so he calls her from the airport.