“…he had come to the recognition that most of what is generally considered the truth is entirely relative. Subject and object are not as distinct as most people think. If the boundary separating the two isn’t clear-cut to begin with, it is not such a difficult task to intentionally shift back and forth from one to the other.” (nook p. 811)
Aomame takes exquisite care of her body by eating only what is healthy, exercising muscles which are difficult to find. Because of her knowledge of the human body, she is able to find by touch a certain spot on the back of a man’s neck, a spot which when pierced with the sharpened end of an ice pick will cause instant death. It is a subtle method of killing, one which seems to bother Aomame not at all.
Nor does it bother the dowager of Willow House, a safe house for battered women, whom Aomame has befriended. Eventually, Aomame works for this seventy year old woman, hired to “move to another world” men who are found to be abusing women. In this way, Aomame takes into her own hands a sort of revenge; I can’t help but wonder if she wasn’t abused in some way herself before she left the Society of Witnesses, a cult from which she was brought up. Certainly she was wounded by the way her parents forced her to proselytize door to door for their religion. As an adult, she is wounded by the deaths of two of her friends who have been murdered by the hands of their “lovers”.
Twenty years ago, at the age of ten, she reached out to her classmate, Tengo, grasping his hand in a moment he never forgets. For Tengo is lonely himself, having the vision of his mother involved with a man who is not his father etched permanently in his mind. He is isolated from his mother emotionally and physically; we never see her as anything more than a painful place in his memory. His father, however, continues to cause suffering as he takes Tengo with him on his routes as a NHK collector. If customers see him with a child, he reasons, they will be more willing to pay their fees. He is not willing to recognize Tengo’s shame and embarrassment, nor the way that his life differs so drastically from that of his classmates who are able to enjoy their Sundays with their parents.
Tengo and Aomame have separate lives, he is a cram school teacher for mathematics and an aspiring writer, she is an excercise instructor; they are both lonely. They both long for the feeling of being loved. They are searching for each other throughout the novel despite the distance of time and place which have kept them apart.
It seems they will never find one another. Near the end of the book I read with an increasing horror, afraid that the harm which had come to so many characters would also work against the two lovers. What right do they have to be united other than their love for one another? Other than the isolation they feel individually which can only be assuaged by their togetherness? Yet Murakami must believe in the redemptive power of a couple’s love, just as they must believe in one another.* Otherwise, this novel could bring us no hope for the world in which we now live.
Aomame pressed an ear against his chest. “I’ve been lonely for so long. And I’ve been hurt so deeply. If only I could have met you again a long time ago, then I wouldn’t have had to take all these detours to get here.”
Tengo shook his head. “I don’t think so. This way is just fine. This is exactly the right time. For both of us.” (nook, p. 1029)
*”It is only a paper moon
hanging over a cardboard sea,
But it wouldn’t be make believe
If you believed in me.”