Having read most of Murakami's other works before reading Norwegian Wood, I was pretty surprised to read a fairly simple, realistic romance. Although Murakami denies that this is autobiographical, one can't help but think that he based it somewhat on his own experiences. Despite the different mood of the book, I believe that it would be a mistake to consider this book unrelated to his other works, as character traits of Watanabe, Midori, and Co. are found in many of Murakami's other works. Midori's spunk and directness in particular can be glimpsed in a lot of Murakami's later characters.
As for the book itself ... although Norwegian Wood is supposedly a love story, I had a hard time seeing tender or romantic qualities in our protagonist. Like many of Murakami's characters, Watanabe is at heart a realist, and a bit more selfish than the average Murakami "Everyman". He has sex with pretty much every woman in the story so I had a hard time buying into his "love" for Naoko (he seemed more focused on her sexual prowess than her mind anyway). I couldn't disagree with Nagasawa's drunken observation that Watanabe was like him in that he was incapable of truly loving anyone. Even when he declares that he can't do without Midori and never wants to be without her again, he goes and leaves her for a month after Naoko kills herself. He even sleeps with Naoko's middle-aged roommate, Reiko. Watanabe's ideals went out the window once he had a chance to take his pants off. When Naoko died, I found myself wondering if his sadness was because she died or because he lost a sexual outlet. I couldn't help but feel that Naoko's gentle beauty was lost on him. The older, wiser Watanabe that we start the book with seems to think along the same lines, but unfortunately, we lose his insight just a few pages into the book.
Norwegian Wood was an interesting read and likeable book, but not really the great literature Murakami's capable of. Norwegian Wood was written around the same time as Banana Yoshimoto's "Kitchen" and I think it would be fair to make comparisons between the two. That's not meant to be a knock on either story. Murakami himself said he wanted to do something different in writing this book, which he certainly did. A good book, but probably not among Murakami's greatest.
desperately seeking something...
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami is one of a long list of books on disillusioned youths looking for some purpose in their rather directionless lives. I wish I can say this book is a Japanese equivalent to A Catcher in the Rye. The author tries, tries very hard. But in the end I was disappointed.
The story is set in the late 1960s Tokyo. It tells the story of a lonesome, "can't quite fit in" young male college student and his relationship with friends and lovers, most of whom are equally disillusioned with life. His female companions are especially depressed, achingly so. ... and that's it! I wish I can say the story yields something particularly insightly or moves in a forward direction. Maybe it does for some. I found it to be a constant recycling of depressing conversation and, embarassingly, discussions of sexual relations to extruciating detail.
Having said all this, I am still a fan of Murakami. His The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a masterpiece. I only wish Norwegian Wood was as daring and original.
Bottom line: a heartfelt but ultimately tame and derivative look at the sadness and loneliness of youth.
Wow! I was completely enchanted by this lyrical novel. The character development is outstanding and the mood really grabs you and gives the words a sense of depth and intense presence. Toru Watanabe is a young man coming into his own and deciding how to live. He does choose to live though, when so many others around him are choosing to die. It is powerful to see his struggles to "wind his spring" as so much comes crashing down around him and he deals with the monotony of life.
He is torn between two loves, until Reiko shows him that it is wonderful to be able to love at all, it is a gift, and that he should not feel bad for loving two women. Naoko and he have a relationship on the edge of life and death which intoxicates him and draws him to her. Midori is an amazing character (I absolutely loved her!) and so full of life that it helps keep him connected to the living world.
I especially enjoyed how sex was used in such creative ways. Sex was used to help us identify with the characters, to illuminate the difference between flesh and soul, to illustrate the frustrations of growing up, to form a friendship, to share passion, just to be alive!
This book did remind me of the Japanese version of The Catcher in the Rye, and Toru does read that novel quite often. There is just something about this book that transcends language and explanation. I loved this book and will definitely enjoy reading it again! A must read!
Web Reviews for Norwegian Wood
According to a search performed on 2005-06-20 10:10:47, 218 websites matched the query '"Norwegian Wood" "book reviews"'. Following is the top 5 results returned
... don't think I dislike any of the songs. I love Norwegian Wood and In My Life. Matthias Male, 30-39, Europe 2892 Posts 0 Questions ...
Popularity Rating for Norwegian Wood
According to a search performed on 2005-06-20 10:10:57, 19300 websites matched the query '"Norwegian Wood"'. This is the SERCount Popularity Rating for Norwegian Wood, in other words, the number of results returned from the search engine (e.g. Google). Following is the top 5 results returned