Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Well here I was thinking that I had absolutely nothing to post about and Nymeth reminded me that I still owed a review for Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. In all honesty, I delayed this one a bit because I didn’t think I could do it justice. And I probably still can’t, but I’ll give it a try. If I would’ve had time to let this one sink in for a bit before I posted my top 12 list of the year, it probably would’ve made it on to the list as it was my last read of 2007. It’s characters and language haunted my mind and the book is still very fresh in my head…floating about in there somewhere. I’ve heard many people say this about Murakami, that his books stay with you, and this is no exception.

This is my first experience with Murakami, so I can’t compare it to anything else written by him, but from what I understand, it’s quite different from many of his other novels. I’ve heard that there’s a bizarre aspect to quite a few of his books that’s not so prevalent in this one. This book is mainly a love story and a quite beautiful and tragic one at that. It’s set in Tokyo and other parts of Japan in the 60’s and follows a young college student by the name of Toru who is in love with Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend who died in an accident a few years back. There relationship begins with silent walks around Japan, both of them recalling thoughts in their own minds of their pasts with their lost friend and their relationship eventually blooms into something more than just a friendship. But a night of intimacy with Toru reveals a tortured side to Naoko and she leaves Tokyo to examine her life and her problems. They exchange letters back and forth leaving Toru unsure of where anything is going between him and Naoko and he isolates himself, retreating even from the one amazing, unique girl that he’s met, Midori, who’s willing to do anything to be with him.

This is not a happy book, but it’s a beautiful book, a serene book. The Japanese have a true gift in their story telling that echoes in aspects of their culture. I always get a sense of peace when I’m reading a Japanese novel or short story and this was no exception. As tragic and lost as these characters seemed at times, I always saw hope for them, always had a vision of calm. This is a book that will definitely pull at your heartstrings and draw you into the characters. Murakami really has a gift for making his characters real. I kept thinking that this must be somewhat autobiographical of his own experiences in the 60’s, but the afterword says that it is not at all, that he actually had quite a boring life in the 60’s and put nothing of himself in this novel. If that’s true, he’s extremely perceptive of other people.

It’s also been said that this is the most erotic of his novels, and there are quite a few sex scenes in here and they’re extremely voyeuristic. This goes back to him making this such a personal book. At first I thought that the dialogue was really awkward during the sex scenes and it was going to be a complaint of mine, but then I realized that what was awkward was just the fact that he was including sexual dialogue where I didn’t expect it…it was reality and a real intimate look into these characters lives.

This book was extremely well written and a great introduction to Murakami in my opinion and I’d definitely recommend it as a starting point to anyone else looking to pick something up by him. It’s also only 296 pages which is short compared to many of his other books! I think I’ll read Kafka on the Shore next…Both Nymeth and Jean Pierre have written great reviews on that one. I just want the British cover! It’s so much better than the US one.

And I think I’ll finally finish A Clash of Kings today! Yay! And then it’s on to First Snow on Fuji which will fulfill my 3 books for Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge πŸ™‚ I’m still going to try to read Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask though before the end of the month!


20 Responses

  1. yay! Thanks for posting about it.

    This book really is very much unlike the rest of his work, and although I love his surreal side, I don’t think this will ever cease to be my favourite. The characters haunted me for a very long time… and it’s honestly hard for me to think of another book that affected me as much emotionally as this one did… made me cry like a baby.

    The eroticism is actually present in most of his books… at least the ones I’ve read. He does it well, I think. It may be awkward, but like you said it’s because it’s meant to be awkward. And it’s never vulgar or thrown in there just because.

    Thanks for the lovely review. I think you did a great job at doing this book justice.

  2. That was the first review that I’ve read of it that made me want to pick up the book.

    And argh! I missed both nights of the Sarah Connor Chronicles? Stupid flu.

  3. Nymeth, Of course! I can see this becoming a favorite of mine and certainly a favorite of his even though I haven’t read anything else of his. I know what you mean about making you cry like a baby. The scene with Reiko and Toru at the end was so beautiful…that will forever stick with me…Reiko was such an amazing character. I forgot to mention her :/ I think he handles eroticism very well…I thought that the translation was off at first, but then I realized that it was just people talking…it wasn’t all done up in a “sexy way” like authors try to do so often. I really can’t wait to read more of his work. It’s because of you that I picked up one of his books finally! So thanks πŸ˜‰

    Carrie K, Really? I hadn’t heard much of this one until I bought it and then people started telling me that it was a favorite of theirs and that I was in for a treat. I hope you do read it! It was a really great book! I’m sorry you missed Sarah Connor Chronicles 😦 You might be able to catch reruns on fox’s website or itunes might have them…if not, I’m sure there will be reruns…there always are!

  4. Sold. Completely. What a beautiful review, Chris! And coupled with Nymeth’s comments, how can one resist?!

  5. Debi, You can’t! Mwuhahahahaha! πŸ˜‰ Hope you enjoy it if you get around to it…like you don’t have enough to read! I swear, your TBR stack must be as bad as mine at this point! Lol…

  6. Well, I’ll get to this one, one day. Actually, it seems like I recall flipping through the book and realizing it was going to be sad but his voice was so compelling I wanted to own it, anyway. Great review!

  7. Bookfool, You’ve got it! Very compelling, but very sad…Definitely one that you should get around to reading though. It really was a beautiful book. I’m glad I discovered him. Have you read anything else by him? I remember you buying Wind-Up Bird Chronicle but don’t remember if you had read anything else of his. I really think you’ll like this one when you read it…hope I’m not wrong!

  8. the subject, but Carl forwarded all my emails and now I can get on his blog again!!!

    this doesn’t sound like a book for me..but always good to hear when someone enjoys a book! however, my wish list grows all the time! heh. (just added Mercedes Lackey’s Joust books to the wish list *groan* )

  9. Deslily, Glad you can finally get on his site again! You’ve been missing some great comments πŸ˜‰ You might be surprised with this one! Definitely out of your normal realm, but a great book. I haven’t read any Lackey aside from a few short stories and I’ve enjoyed the stories I’ve read…I’ll get to her one of these days! I should have a review of Martin’s A Clash of Kings coming up either tonight or there’s a series I think you’d like! But it’s massive!

  10. I’ve read about 30 pages of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and then set it aside. You have a great memory. πŸ™‚ I have a feeling I’ll like Murakami a lot, once I get through my current challenges and – hopefully – back to normal brain function!

  11. Bookfool, Hang in there! Normal will come back eventually…and Murakami’s books aren’t going anywhere. I’d stick with guilty pleasure reading for now if I were you!

  12. I loved this one too, Chris, and it made my Top Ten for 2007. And, like you, it was my first Murakami. I’ve got Kafka on the Shore on my TBR stack, and hope to get to it very soon. πŸ™‚

  13. I’ve heard from a couple people that this is their favorite Murakami. You’ll love Kafka, though, I’m sure. It blew me away last year.

    Also, I have about 50 pages left in Confessions of a Mask. I have to say that’s it’s nothing like The Sound of Waves. The style reminds me a bit of Soseki Natsume, who I don’t recall if you’ve read, in that it’s a bit less lush and more analytical, but I definitely like it. The main character is dealing with his sexuality, and his experience speaks SO strongly to me, so I like it for very personal reasons, but it’s got a universality to it…. wow, I guess I should save it for the review, huh?

    ONE LAST THING then I promise I’m done. As a side note, if you ever want a Japanese novelist that DOESN’T have that sense of calm and serenity (that I agree is prevalent in a lot of works) try Ryu Murakami. In the Miso Soup. It will MESS you UP!

  14. CDN, Looks like we’re having extremely similar experiences with Murakami! Beautiful book, wasn’t it? I can’t wait to get to Kafka on the Shore. If only I didn’t have so many damn other books in front of it!!

    Scott, Looking forward to Kafka on the Shore…it seems to have blown plenty of people away! Confessions of a Mask is next for me after First Snow on Fuji which I’m reading now. I’ve heard that it’s very different from Mishima’s other stuff and I can’t wait to read it. I haven’t read any Natsume before, so I’ll have to just trust you on that one πŸ˜‰ In the Miso Soup goes on the list! I love books that mess you up!

  15. I keep meaning to check out his stuff. I like the title of this being from Liverpool and a big Beatles fan πŸ˜‰ I don’t know if I will have time this year, but I will defintely give him a go next year at the latest.

  16. Rhinoa, I’m a big Beatles fan too πŸ˜‰ It was a big deciding factor in me choosing this book! you’ll love him when you read him, I’m sure!

  17. I’m such a lover of non-fiction that it takes a really great review to actually make me pick up a fiction book. I think I might pick this up. Still not quite committing but you’ve peeked my interests. -C

  18. Carole, Oh good! I hope you do pick this up, it was beautiful. I would’ve never pegged you for a rare reader of fiction! You learn something new every day. Back to the book, It’s been almost a month now since I’ve finished this one and I STILL think about it nearly every day. It’s one of those…I can’t wait to get back to Murakami and see what other stories await! I hope you enjoy it if you decide to read it!

  19. Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is where I would direct you next as a fan of Murakami. I’ve only read HBW and now Norwegian Wood and I am glad that I started with HBW. While I appreciate the straight forward love narrative that carries Norwegian Wood, the magical realism and fantasy elements of HBW are so fantastic that you cannot help but smile. Check it out if you have the time.

  20. […] This one is Chris’ fault, just for the general Murakami love on his blog, and his review here. […]

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