Title: Norwegian Wood
Author: Haruki Murakami
Rating: 4 Stars
Cover: Like It
I found myself sitting still for a while after I finished this book, enveloped in the peculiar sadness you feel when you think about someone who used to be a big part of your life. The character, Toru Watanabe, adds to this feeling when he says, “People leave strange little memories of themselves behind when they die” (p. 197).
Haruki Murakami is well known for the magical realism elements in his stories. It’s interesting to me that the first book I picked up by him instead tells the story straight. I will be interested to see what my opinion of Murakami will be once I read some of his other books. Magical realism is very dear to my heart.
The descriptions in Norwegian Wood captured me right away and I felt as if I were walking alongside the characters, taking in the scenery as described and feeling the sometimes confusing emotions as the characters try to explain themselves to each other. When the book starts, the reader is introduced to the main character, Toru, who almost instantly takes us back into his memories of his college years. From the way he’s wrestling with his memories, the reader should be prepared for some difficult things as he sorts through them. Difficult indeed. I found myself cringing as one character tells him about how a 13-year-old girl raped her (an extremely detailed and uncomfortable scene), or getting frustrated as characters seem to push and tug Toru however they see fit.
One character that plays a large role in Toru’s college years is Naoko. A friend of his from high school, they both come together over the equal confusion and hurt over a mutual friend’s death. Naoko has a tough time, though, as this person is one whom she has loved and spent almost every waking moment with since a young age. She struggles to learn who she is and how to live without being a joint person.
I find Naoko’s character fascinating. Murakami does such a good job showing Naoko’s internal struggles and poor mental health from an outsider’s perspective. Throughout most of the book, she is a confusing character and quite strange – I had trouble as to what to make of her. However, by the end, I realized that this was masterfully handled to show the perspective of one who loves another who struggles with their mental health, and feeling unable to completely understand or connect with that person.
One thing I find very strange in this story is that all of the female characters are equal parts self-deprecating and pushers. They each come into Toru’s life, instead of he into theirs, decide they are going to make him be friends with them by sweeping him up into their lives, and have long conversations about themselves that usually end with, “Don’t you feel sorry for me?” Each of these characters is so wrapped up in their own worlds and drag Toru along, without a care as to how he’s affected. Poor Toru just goes with the flow, his only friends being those who have sought him out, and sometimes gets trampled on in the process. While his friends or romantic interests ask him questions about himself and praise how unique he is, their ultimate goal in everything they do seems to benefit their own little worlds, instead of him. I was very discouraged by this throughout the book because they all seemed to be extremely unhappy with their lives, leaving Toru depressed in their dust. I can only hope the poor guy learned how to make healthier relationships after this season in his life.
Norwegian Wood was a beautiful, confusing, and stressful adventure. The writing itself is almost poetic at times and is rightfully praised. It deals with heavy issues, sex-crazed college students, and a heart of pure gold. This book is the title that sent Haruki Murakami into fame and stardom, which makes me wonder how his books written before and after read.