Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami
Genre: Adult Fiction
I’ve always been a massive fan of Murakami’s work and Norwegian Wood did not disappoint. No word of a lie, this book has been on my Amazon Wishlist for a good 3 years so I was excited and relieved when I received it as a Christmas present last year. We follow Toru Watanabe who is reflecting on his youthful life that was filled with girls, sex and singing on balconies. When Toru’s relationship with his girlfriend, Naoko, becomes increasingly problematic and is forced to be away from her for a while, he meets a girl in his History of Drama named Midori who, we can safely say, threw a spanner in the works slightly. However, this is no conventional love story by any means, it is much much more than that. The plot is less about the love and more about the challenges Toru faces as a young person; it is ridden with intense themes, such as depression and suicide, that are just as, if not more relevant in our society today. There were a couple of issues that arose here and there that I’ll discuss further on in the review but, all in all, another brilliant novel but another brilliant author.
I love reading about different cultures as I think it adds a whole new dimension to an already well-fleshed out plot and I think the Japanese setting certainly did this. I rarely ever picture the characters I read about but I feel like I truly imagined the physical appearance of each character this time yet Murakami manages to do this in a completely non-mechanical way.
Toru was a rather plain character considering he was our protagonist, but don’t get me wrong because I don’t mean that as a criticism, I actually think it accentuated how ordinary a life like his is, making it easy for anyone to identify with him at one point or another. As much as I appreciate the difficulties in Toru’s life, the death of his best friend and issues based on Naoko’s mental health, I didn’t really support him the whole way through. I thought his relationship with Midori was nonsensical (and that’s not just because I strongly disliked Midori) but because their dynamics were all over the place, they were never on the same page and someone was always angry or isolating the other. Similarly, I didn’t understand neither believe their attraction towards one another so I get the impression that their relationship was based more on salvation than love.
Midori was a difficult character to read and I found her to be rather whiny and irritating throughout the novel. Her constant need for validation in her appearance was initially quite sad, and I did feel sympathetic towards her in the beginning, but the repetitiveness made me feel like she was less insecure about herself and more fishing for compliments to feed her ego. And while this wasn’t Midori’s fault by any means, I didn’t like that she interrupted the relationship between Toru and Naoko which I thought was absolutely beautiful. I adored reading the letters they exchanged with one another while she was at the sanctuary and my favourite part of the book was when he visited Naoko while she was there as it showed that, however many obstacles that stood in his way and however many times his feelings fluctuated, Toru would always remain committed to Naoko even in times of doubt. And, of course, these chapters were made even better as we were introduced to Reiko, Naoko’s older roommate in the sanctuary. When the story contained a lot of sexual encounters and romantic relationships (too many than I think was necessary might I add), it was a lovely breath of fresh air to read about such a close friendship like that of Naoko and Reiko’s. Reiko’s courageousness became even more impressive and admirable as we started to learn more and more about her past making her easily one of the most inspirational characters I’ve read about in a long time.
I feel I ought to mention the difficult themes Murakami tackles in the book too. Personally, I have been lucky enough to not have to deal with the death of anyone close to me before so this is my view based on someone not having had to experience such grief. That said, Toru’s response to death in the novel seemed very raw and utterly heartbreaking, to say the least. I’m sure if you’ve considered reading Norwegian Wood that you’re aware that it comes with a hefty list of trigger warnings, be it suicide, sexual harassment… but they’re not added to the story in a ‘cheap’ way or just to make the plot more ‘complex’, they’re implemented in a subtle yet pronounced way just as these themes are in real life which is a wonderfully masterful skill. And so, while I have discussed that I did have some problems throughout the novel (definitely don’t agree with the final interaction between Toru and Reiko at the end), I enjoyed it the whole way through. It’s a very important story that offers something to everyone so an easy recommendation all the way round!
– – – – – – – – POPSUGAR Reading Challenge Update – – – – – – – –
A book translated into English ✓
A book with a protagonist who has your occupation ✓
Happy Reading Bookworms!