This is the third book of Haruki Murakami’s I have read, along with South of the Border, West of the Sun and After Dark. This is perhaps his most well known book? One that catapulted him to reluctant fame in Japan. I enjoyed this story even though I didn’t find it as enchanting as I was expecting; that surreal element wasn’t as noticeable and suprisingly I missed it. Suprisingly because I found the lack of answers a little frustrating in his other books but obviously appreciated the mystery and stretching of boundaries more than I realised. Having said that, death, mental illness, a cult like institution and unattainable women were hopefully not the norm in a teenagers life in that era or any era so it isn’t really that ordinary. And it is a story that grows on you.
Norwegian Wood is a student story set in 1960s Tokyo. Murakami’s love of music and the Beatles in particular and western literature is apparent. The story begins with 37 year old Toru Watanabe hearing the song Norwegian Wood which takes him back to his student years and the two women in his life. Mysterious women seem to be a theme in Murakami’s books. Toru is torn between Naoko, the ex girlfriend of his late best friend who is mentally scarred and for now, unattainable; and Midori, the vibrant, risk taking opposite of Naoko but with problems of her own.
I love Murakami’s male narrators – they have an elegance and candour about them. Toru Watanabe is especially laid back. He can lie on a roof top and talk and listen all night but doesn’t need to use any unnecessary words. He may feel confused and lost and out of his depth but in his actions he is true to himself even if he doesn’t have the answers. He is a person trying to do the right thing so it is easy to respect him. Perhaps that is why so many peole love this book, he can be looked upon as a role model.
This is an an adolescent story and there is plenty of romping around with thoughts and talk about sex- I wonder how the film will deal with that, hopefully in the skillful way Murakami has written it, acknowledging it’s importance but the reader always knows it is not the centrepiece of the story.
While Murakami’s other two books had an immediate impact on me, this one was more of a slow burner coming together beautifully towards the end, yet still leaving questions to ponder and allowing room for the reader’s own interpretation. My doubts about it melted away and I’m already looking forward to the next one – not sure what that will be and I also know it won’t be for a while – I’d like to leave some space for this one to settle first.
Translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin
400 pages, 1987, 2001 (English).