Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve updated this blog! I started this review in the summer and never managed to finish it, but here goes!
I thought I would jump back on the Murakami train and do a review of his ever popular, Norwegian Wood. I’ve been dying to read this book for years, because I really like his earlier works, so I finally ran to the library and took out the Vintage International copy published in 2000. Apparently, this is the first English translation that Murakami authorized for publication outside of Japan, so if you’re going to read Norwegian Wood in English, I recommend this version.
Now what’s with the name? First off, even though the book was originally published in Japan in 1987, the story actually takes place in the late 1960’s, more specifically 1969. Actually, the novel begins with the protagonist, Toru Watanabe, who is 37 (so the year is 1986) reflecting on his past in 1968-1969, when he’s 17-18. There he begins his story as a college student where he tries to learn and just live life, yet his narration is hindered. There’s something sterile about Watanabe and it has to do with his relationship with Naoko and their mutual friend Kizuki.
I’ll lay the plot out for you, it is a coming of age story and it’s basically about Wantanbe dealing with the suicide of his only friend in high school Kizuki. Kizuki is the opposite of Wantanbe – he’s outgoing, has a long stable relationship with Naoko, and overall seems like a great guy, but then out of the blue he kills himself. From this point on (I have to add a side note though, Wantanbe is stale from the get go even without the suicide, but then he becomes even more so after the suicide) Wantanbe goes on with his life and goes to college. The rest of the book details his experiences in college and after – his relationships, his attitude, his dullness, how he stands out because of his nonchalant attitude, etc.
From there we see the people that Wantanbe interacts with, of course we have the unhealthy and frustrating relationship with Naoko. She too is very traumatized by her boyfriend’s suicide and never gets over it until…well…here’s a spoiler…she ends her life too. She clings to Wantanbe in the most selfish, self serving way that I have ever read in a novel and even though I want to feel sympathy for her (and I suppose in a lot of ways I do) I can’t. She’s an incredibly weak and sick character. I don’t think there was any hope for her from the time her boyfriend killed himself and I find it sad that she can’t get past it . At the same time, the book really does highlight the trauma and impact that taking one’s life does to a person.
So, there’s Wantanbe’s relationship with Naoko that he also clings too as if his life depended on his. His friendship with Nagasawa (who is coincidentally enough very similiar in personality to Kizuki) and his ever-suffering girlfriend Hatsumi (she too has a similiar ending like Naoko, my goodness suicide is prevelant in Japan!). His romantic relationship with the annoying and independent Midori (she represents the “modern girl” she dresses very mod). And of course, his complicated relationship with Reiko, the much older roommate to Naoko when she is in an asylum.
All of these relationships all come together and are detailed in Wantanbe’s college years and really have to do with sexuality. Everything eventually ends up having to do with sex and love and how these people deal with these emotions and situations. The narrator is typical of Murakami’s typical protagonists – he’s cool, relaxed, dull, and loyal. However this character is linked to suicide and sex and this sort of drives his narrative. All of the characters are lacking in some sort of way and I believe they try to escape this void with sex and if that doesn’t work, then death. And this book does not leave you with an inspirational feeling, rather a very lonely, very empty feeling, much like all the characters. I would go into more detail, but I can’t and won’t because the book lays in my head like a massive blur. I feel like everything occurred in such a blur.
So would I recommend this book? It depends on the person. I know it is a classic and I suppose everyone should have a taste of it, but it just made me feel uncomfortable and frustrated. Everyone seems so hopeless. The book actually ends on a very hopeful tone, but still it was just empty and sad. I think it is a good example of how suicide does effect people and how it really affects the people you leave behind in more ways than you actually think, so I think in that regard it should be read. But seriously, if you do read, go watch a happy movie…maybe a Pixar film…