Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.
A poignant story of one college student’s romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man’s first, hopeless, and heroic love.
Where to buy it: QBD the Bookshop, paperback $19.99
When can I get my hands on it: Now!
What can I expect: love, coming of age, mental illness, suicide
“Death exists, not as the opposite but as a part of life. By living our lives, we nurture death.”
For the most part this book is a coming of age love story. Our protagonist, Toru Watanabe is torn between two women. His dead best friend Kizuki’s girlfriend Naoko and the vibrant Midori who he meets at university. The novel is set in 1969 Tokyo and I really enjoyed the vivid imagery Murakami creates within the novel. I felt like I was in the heart of Tokyo. I could picture every train station, every garden and every bookstore. As for Murakami’s writing style, it flowed really well with a tendency to waffle here and there. It wasn’t anything extreme but some moments were dragged out.
I understood Watanabe and Naoko’s relationship. They were bonded by Kizuki and their pain and joy were entwined with his death and memory. They were both affected by his suicide in different ways and their relationship brought them both comfort and a sense of familiarity. I enjoyed the progression of their romantic relationship and I felt like Murakami did a really good job at portraying a realistic young love.
“No truth can cure the sadness from losing a loved one. No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness, can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see that sadness through to the end and learn something from it, but what we learn will be no help in facing the next sadness that comes to us without warning.”
Watanabe’s relationship with Midori on the other hand was not so straight forward. I think I didn’t really like it as much because I didn’t particularly like Midori. I found her immature and irritating. She has a boyfriend and yet still pursues another guy. She won’t break up with her boyfriend despite admitting to having feelings for Watanabe and spending most of her time with him and not her boyfriend. She’s also incredibly sexually frustrated and quite vulgar. There were moments from their relationship I enjoyed and others I really didn’t. I also didn’t feel the build up with their relationship. It jumped from just friends to in love pretty abruptly.
Mental illness is a big theme within this novel and I think Murakami portrayed it accurately. There are good days and bad days. Sometimes you’re fine and other times you’re not. Reiko’s story was really intriguing. I was not expecting her story to be what it was and I found myself incredibly surprised with what I read, which is rare for me because I’m usually pretty good at picking things up. One thing I really didn’t understand was why Reiko and Watanabe sleep together. I don’t get it. Throughout the novel she is portrayed as the loving older sister/aunt figure who gives Watanabe and Naoko opportunities for stolen moments. Watanabe refuses to sleep with Midori to stay true to Naoko and yet he slept with Reiko?? Despite the circumstances I still didn’t understand it. For me it ruined the dynamic the two characters had with one another.
In spite of all this, I really did enjoy this novel. It was both sad and beautiful. If you like romantic novels with substance and a writing style that leans more towards the literary side this book is for you.
Final rating: 4/5