Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

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).

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8 responses to “Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

  1. I’ve only ever read Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, which I liked but found a little too surreal for my general tastes (I had no idea going in to it that this was just kind of par for the course for a Murakami work!) This one sounds similar, but I like the dichotomies between the two women you described, so maybe it’s time to give Mur another chance! Thanks for a great review!

    • Chelsea – thank you. I haven’t read Kafka on the Shore but (I think) it might be one of Murakami’s more surreal books. Norwegian Wood might be the way to go! I also thought South of the Border, West of the Sun was a beautiful story and not too weird if you fancied giving that a try! Thanks for your comment.

  2. What a great review. My first Murakami book was The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and I have to admit I found that hard going, but this one of yours has really captured my interest again. I’m off to the library today, so I may well look out for it!

    • TheBookGatherer – Thank you – Oh good luck if you do decide to have another try – Even the title of The Wind Up Bird Chronicle is unusal isn’t it?! Thank you for your comment.

  3. I have also read The Wind up Bird Chronicle and it was different but still good. I really should read some more of his, perhaps I’ll give Norwegian Wood a try.

    • Booketta – Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I popped by your blog and tried to comment on The Swan Thieves but it didn’t go through. Either that or you will have the same message to approve about ten times – sorry about that!

      By the sounds of it Norwegian Wood is the more ‘normal’ of Murakami’s books so could be a good next read..

  4. I loved “Norwegian Wood”, I think its moniker “The Japanese Catcher in the Rye” is well deserved. “Norwegian Wood” is my second favorite Murakami novel, “Wind-up Bird Chronicle” is my favorite, such a weird-pants novel, but so epic and provoking!

    • Books are my Boyfriends (great name btw – much more reliable!), I hadn’t thought of the comparison but I can definitely see that the two novels could have that same cult like status – I loved Catcher in the Rye even though I read it for the first time when I was well out of my teens! Wind-up Bird Chronicle does sound like it provokes some different responses – I will have to add that to the list. Thanks for stopping by..

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