Move over Lolita! But only a little bit to the side.
This novel is about a man in his early thirties reflecting back on his pursuing his now wife. He tells us that he fell for her in a kind of way when he first saw her when she was 15 and he was 28. He expresses his own curiosity about why he would fall in love with a child, as her refers to her, but discusses this further by explaining that she reminded him of Western woman in her looks, style, sensibility, and appeal.
So he grooms her by moving her into his house and as they grow closer, they marry in secret. But as they live this secret life those looking in see him in an authorial role and treat her as such, as a friend or a potential lover depending on their orientation. For him though, he’s learning that his fully formed notions on what he wanted from her, based in her manipulability does not automatically translate to her being all that interested in staying as his prize for long.
It shares a lot of similarities to Lolita, as you can imagine, but also books by Murakami that also deal in different kinds of these relationships.
It’s unsettling, but the book tries to find a way to turn this obsession with Naomi’s Westernness as a kind of satire on Japanese culture’s obsession with the West. I am either ill-equipped to judge or simply unconvinced by the suggestion. It’s not explicit in its language and description but it’s interesting to see how changing mores look at a relationship like this that would have seemed perfectly normal in a previous era now being judges on new terms.