A first US appearance of a novel originally published in 1987, this crisp portrayal of “flaming youth” in the late 1960s proves one of Murakami’s most appealing—if uncharacteristic—books.
Best known to us as the comic surrealist-symbolist author of such rousing postmodernist fare as A Wild Sheep Chase (1989), Murakami is also a highly intelligent romantic who feels the pangs of his protagonist Toru Watanabe’s insistent sexual and intellectual hungers and renders them with unsparing clarity (the matter-of-fact sexual frankness here seems unusual for a Japanese novel, even a 1987 one).Toru’s narrative of his student years, lived out against a backdrop of ongoing “campus riots,” focuses on the lessons he learns from relationships with several highly individual characters, two of them women he simultaneously loves (or thinks he loves). Mercurial Naoko, who clearly perceives the seeds of her own encroaching madness (“It’s like I’m split in two and playing tag with myself”), continues to tug away at Toru’s emotions even after she enters a sanatorium. Meanwhile, coy fellow student Midori tries to dispel shadows cast by her parents’ painful deaths by fantasizing and simulating—though never actually experiencing—sex with him. Other perspectives on Toru’s hard-won assumption of maturity are offered by older student Nagasawa (“a secret reader of classic novels,” and a compulsive seducer); Naoko’s roommate Reiko, a music teacher (and self-styled interpreter of such Beatles’ songs as the one that provides Murakami’s evocative title) who’s perhaps also her lesbian lover; and the specter of Toru’s boyhood friend Kizuki, a teenaged suicide. There’s a lot of talk about books (particularly Fitzgerald’s and Hesse’s) and other cultural topics, in a blithely discursive and meditative story that’s nevertheless firmly anchored to the here and now by the vibrant immediacy of its closely observed characters and their quite credibly conflicted psyches and libidos.
A contemporary equivalent of This Side of Paradise or Vile Bodies, and another solid building-block in one of contemporary fiction’s most energetic and impressive bodies of work.