Interestingly, I didn't think the first chapter was really all that. Sure, there were some interesting ruminations about the nature of memory, and I wanted to learn more about Toru and Naoko's relationship, but on the whole I was sort of like 'meh...' and kind of indifferent to the whole thing. That is, until the very very interesting revelation near the end of chapter two, when we find out that Toru's best friend, and Naoko's boyfriend, killed himself a year ago; because to me, that changed everything. Everything that I was thinking about these characters was promptly blown away by knowing this one fact, and this was a genuine turning point in the book for me- I could practically feel my brain straightening up in its seat and going 'alright... well this could really be something', and, you know what, I kind of still think that it is.
And now let me talk about Midori because she's really super awesome! I don't know if it's just because I didn't really like Naoko- which, trust me, I don't feel good about because she's super grieving and all, but she seriously tires me and makes me want to sigh a lot- but Midori just seems so vibrant and amazing and different, albeit a tiny bit sociopathic. But, the thing is, she makes Toru feel alive again, I think, and generally gives him things to do and think about which, by himself, he's not so great at. Also, she has an awesome face:
"A fresh and physical life force surged from the girl who sat before me now. She was like a small animal that has popped into the world with the coming of spring. Her eyes moved like an independent organism with joy, laughter, anger, amazement and despair. I hadn't seen a face so vivid and expressive in ages, and I enjoyed watching it live and more."See? Midori's clearly awesome, and she can surely only get awesomer. Probably.
Moving on... While I think there are a lot of themes and stuff explored even just in this first section of the book, the overriding one at the moment seems to basically be death, or more specifically, what death means to the people left behind. Toru has had to deal with the death of his best friend at a horribly young age, and while he misses him, what his death has also done is bring home the reality of how close death really is at any time, and also how meaningless life can seem because of this. What I think this has done is made Toru really passive- things just happen to him, rather than him doing anything to make them happen, which is not necessarily the best way to live one's life. The same goes for Naoko, only even more so, and this passivity and inability to deal with what's happened has basically, although not said in so many words, put her in a mental hospital. Sad times. And then there's Midori, whose mother has died and father has run off, and yet she remains so vibrant and alive, and so so dynamic- she makes things happen to her, and so I think we have to admire her. That's not to say that she's completely untouched by the things that have happened (she has that whole insomnia thing going on) but she carries on nonetheless, and for that I adore her.
So, already, I'm fully hooked. I want to know what's going to happen to everyone, and I really really want to know what's in that letter from Naoko! I thought that, since this is a book by a Japanese writer, set in Japan, I would feel a little bit out of my depth and overcome with strangeness, but amazingly this didn't at all happen- I think what Murakami is writing about is so universal that everyone can relate, regardless of setting. At points, in fact, I was pretty much imagining his university campus as my own University campus, something which I don't think is to do with my lack of imagination, but rather to do with the fact that I can relate, and that this could just as easily be my story. Or possibly I lack imagination. Shut up. Anyway, basically, YAY Norwegian Wood (I've been listening to that song a bit lately, and actually, it is pretty great. Naoko may be crazy, but she has pretty good taste). I can't wait for the next two chapters!