Book Review: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
This is the first Murakami book I’ve ever read. The reason I spiked an interest in reading this book was because of the hype that surrounds it. The fact that there was a recent Japanese movie adaptation of this particular book (that I officially have a copy of, with English subs of course, trailer 1 and trailer 2) was also something I had used as a reason to buy this book (as with my recent book choices i.e. Never Let Me Go).
When I first read the few pages of this book, I thought to myself “Well, I like reading tragedies. I just hope it won’t be too sad that it’ll bore me” but it wasn’t just a tragedy. It was a tragic recalling of a life that’s gone past but it wasn’t all about the sadness of remembering the vivid details that would occasionally resurface.
No. It was about how those memories shaped us to be what we are now. It was about reminiscing the good even in the worst moments of our life.
In a nutshell, this book is about making the right decisions in the hardest of times and how to be righteous in your own way. This book is a must read for those fans of literatures with a coming-of-age theme to it.
The book’s story is carefully written with the thought of 1960’s Japan and how student activism was at its peak. The story won’t revolve around it, though. No; it’ll simply pass on it like a bend in the road. The author, though, would like to emphasize on the hypocrisy of the movement later on.
The main theme of the book, however, was about choosing the best answers among a sea of good-enough decisions. It specifically revolves around loving someone to the fullest just to let that love confuse you on how to go on living your life while being in love. It shows how loving someone will not always give you just its benefits. To love someone is to dutifully accept everything about them, including the flaws and issues they come in.
The main character, also the story teller, Toru Watanabe, tells everything from a detailed point of view. This makes the story seem very vivid, as if the memories he’s recalling and telling the reader at that moment is as fresh as a new born baby; “as if they happened yesterday” as the saying sometimes goes. This makes the reader know that Toru really can’t forget this part of his life, on how he transitioned from being an immature and selfish teenager to a more cautious and caring adult, all turning from 18 to 20 years old.
This book also explores the suicidal tendencies of the Japanese youth. I’ve only read articles and watched movies about suicide tendencies amongst Japanese teenagers so I can’t really regard them nor this book as fact but the mere emphasis of the story revolving around the youth of the 60’s, and how real facts were used in this book, may not be a coincidence after all. Suicide rates must’ve been pretty high then and the reasons were either unknown or too common as well, sometimes fabricated even. I guess the life of a teenager then was too stressful. Too many things to think about, too many opportunities opening up and even more lost, and the fact that the country is still on a virtual tie up with the Germans even after the war, being young and immature then would make a teenager rethink their life and what awaits them. The negativities would get to them and they’d just wake up one day and decide to end it all. Being naturally selfish, they wouldn’t think twice about what would happen after they’re dead. The repercussions of their act would have a long term effect and they wouldn’t even think about that possibility even for a second.
With what the above stated, Toru struggles to find his place in this world. His mind finds it hard to cope with everything around him falling apart all at once. This book shows his instinctive desire to find that one person to confide with. It tells the reader that no matter how much life gets you down, there will always be that one person in your life you know can take all the pain away. Toru knows who this person is. But what happens if that person is not with him? Toru would then find his happiness from a variety of people he meets along the way. Yet he never feels completely filled. There was always that one space for that one person but he knows it’ll never be really occupied. He thinks it’ll always remain empty.
The book may also redefine what love is. This, on its own, is a love story but it’s nothing like I’ve read before and I’m sure it won’t be like anything you’ve read before as well. It’s erotic in a good way. It explores sex in a very romantic and symbolic manner. The book uses terms one wouldn’t deem appropriate for minors to read but I assure you, it’s just part of the realism which makes this book great.
It’s not cheesy, it’s not very romantic, and heck, it may not even match the greatest love stories of all time. All I can assure you, however, is this: This book defines love in a more realistic way than one can imagine.
It was one of my best reads ever. I’d give it a perfect score but there was this one chapter I think Murakami dragged a bit with the details. Then again, detail preference is purely subjective when it comes to novels. Some love reading words, some hate beating around the bush, and there are others who would rather stay focused on the characters than how four paragraphs would explain how lush and beautiful the setting was. Still, though dragging, the details weren’t boring. I just figured the book could’ve been better (for me at least) if some of the details were left for the reader to imagine.
The title of the book:
“Norwegian Wood” is a song title by The Beatles. It’s about the wood people used to build their rooms. There have been quite a number of interpretations of this song. My own personal interpretation would be that it’s about this guy who met a girl and this girl invited him over. The guy was expecting sex, of course. The girl showed him her room which was made of, you guessed it, Norwegian wood. She then tells him how great it is. Then they had drinks, talked a lot, and just when it dragged too much, the girl says it’s time to sleep (as in snoozing) and she got work in the morning. The girl also laughed while saying this. The girl also feels uncomfortable with men so he asks the guy to sleep in the bath tub instead. The guy, feeling disappointed, falls asleep in the bath tub only to wake up with the girl gone. He then thinks of revenge for leading him on and how he didn’t realize she was a lesbian. So he decided to burn the place down and mock the girl, saying “Isn’t it good, Norwegian wood”.
Let me just tell you this, Watanabe. I’m a real, live girl, with real, live blood gushing through my veins. You’re holding me in your arms and I’m telling you that I love you. I’m ready to do anything you tell me to do. I may be a little crazy but I’m a good kid, and honest and I work hard, I’m kinda cute, I’ve got nice boobs, I’m a good cook, and my father left me a trust fund. I mean, I’m a real bargain, don’t you think?
She knelt on the floor by my pillow, eyes fixed on mine. I stared back at her, but her eyes told me nothing. Strangely transparent, they seemed like windows to a world beyond, but however long I peered into their depths, there was nothing I could see. Our faces were no more than ten inches apart, but she was light-years away from me.
It was a soft and gentle kiss, one not meant to lead beyond itself. I would probably not have kissed Midori that day if we hadn’t spent the afternoon on the laundry deck in the sun, drinking beer and watching a fire, and she probably felt the same. After a long time of watching the glittering rooftops and the smoke and the red dragonflies and other things, we had felt something warm and close, and we both probably wanted, half-consciously, to preserve that mood in some form. It was that kind of kiss. But as with all kisses, it was not without a certain element of danger.
The first one to speak was Midori. She held my hand and told me, with what seem like some difficulty, that she was seeing someone. I said that I had sensed as much.
“Do you have a girl you like?” she asked.
“I do,” I said.
“But you’re always free on Sundays, right?”
“It’s very complicated,” I said.
“I broke up with him. Just like that.” Midori put a Marlboro in her mouth, shielded it with her hand as she lit up, and inhaled.
“Why?’!” she screamed. “Are you crazy? You know the English subjunctive, you understand trigonometry, you can read Marx, and you don’t know the answer to something as simple as that? Why do you even have to ask? Why do you have to make a girl say something like this? I like you more than I like him, that’s all. I wish I had fallen in love with somebody a little more handsome, of course. But I didn’t.
I fell in love with you!”
I wrote a huge number of letters that spring: one a week to Naoko, several to Reiko, and several more to Midori. I wrote letters in the classroom, I wrote letters at my desk at home with Seagull in my lap, I wrote letters at empty tables during my breaks at the Italian restaurant. It was as if I were writing letters to hold together the pieces of my crumbling life.
No truth can cure the sorrow we feel from losing a loved one. No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see it through to the end and learn something from it, but what we learn will be no help in facing the next sorrow that comes to us without warning.
I’d recommend this blog post for a good review of the book. I don’t know the author at all nor was I aware of the existence of her blog. I found her when searching for quotes online. I figured I’d do service by linking her here.
For now, let me share with you my thoughts on Norwegian Wood, something that I will describe, given only a few lines would be: It’s like eating Japanese cuisine: raw and healthy.