What do you get when you mix melancholy steeped in alcohol, sex, and a large dose of sadness? If you’re thinking a Friday night gone wrong, then you’re partly right. Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood swept the best seller’s list in Japan and is now an international sensation. Murakami is known for his unique writing, targeting a certain emotion in all of us. This one was my first Murakami read (shocking I know) and I have to say, my head still feels like I came out of a lingering hangover. As I write this review, I feel impelled to take a swig of whatever drink is next me, put on shaded glasses, and pound out my feels on a typewriter (all for dramatics of course). Settling for my laptop keyboard instead, shall we dive into the caliginous pool that is Norwegian Wood?
The quiet and pensive Toru Watanabe is a young college student who begins his life at the doorstep of his dorm in Tokyo. Shouldering an already harboring sadness over the death of his best friend Kizuki, and a blossoming love for his dead best friend’s girl friend Naoko, Toru is left to retreat into the caverns of his own mind. The book spins and wheels through his relationships, both sexual and platonic, as his adolescence grows into a peaking adult. Set in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, we see the times reflected in the characters as Murakami includes riots, sexual exploration and liberation, and political craftiness. Toru’s love for Naoko is prevalent throughout the entire novel; it is when our protagonist meets the eccentric Midori that the heaviness that lies inside him form into an even deeper emotion. The “manic pixie” girl Midori plays her role exactly as labeled. She is liberal, outspoken, emotionally sporadic and lovable by the quiet Toru. Norwegian Wood explores many elements of sadness, death, depression, and sex. However, it does it in a way that is melodic and slow, processing it one bite at a time. Murakami takes his time with the novel, savoring each emotion and character.
My feelings still stands as stated above: this book feels like a hangover. I know there are many fans of Murakmi out there, and perhaps I should give his other novels a go, but Norwegian Wood wasn’t a favorite for me. Maybe because everything was processed so slow in this novel, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. The characters were so-so and sometimes I couldn’t stand them. It was a good read, just not a favorite. It took me a bit to get into, but once I did, I enjoyed it a little more. I wasn’t “wowed” and it wasn’t as sad as many thought. Call me stone cold, but that’s just the way I felt about it. I do like the questions Murakami brings up about death and life itself. One particular quote is my favorite: “You try too hard to make life it your way of doings things…So stop what you’re doing this minute and get happy. Work at making yourself happy!” The novel really speaks for living your life and pursuing the things that make you happy-not wading in fear or sadness. Although it wasn’t a favorite for me, there are elements to the novel that were really enjoyable. I do like the author’s writing style, and he has some intriguing prose in the mix. This one gets three stars from me. I’m curious to explore some more Murakami! Any recommendations?