by Haruki Murakami
When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire – to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past.
“Norwegian Wood” is the most famous of Harumi Murakami‘s work, so it seemed the perfect starting point for me. I’ve recently finished and have to say that I found it a little… odd.
I find it quite difficult to put into words what this book is about, because it didn’t seem to have a clear meaning for me. There are certainly elements of a love story (it’s listed in the top 100 romance books on Goodreads), but there’s not a great deal of romance to be seen. There is quite a lot of sex though!
It’s set in the 60s in Tokyo and it follows Toru Watanabe, a college student coming to terms with the death of his best friend Kizuki. Toru and Kizuki’s girlfriend Naoko form a bond and he soon falls in love with her.
I’m a little torn about how I feel about this book, because I do appreciate that it’s very well written and some of the passages are particularly poignant. The plot, however, I struggled with and I probably wouldn’t recommend it for that reason.
I think it’s quite impressive how popular this book has become as it doesn’t have a particularly ground-breaking story but instead delves into the human mind, feelings and emotions. I’ve seen a handful of quotes which claim that Murakami can’t understand the worldwide love for this piece either which is quite interesting to hear.
I’ve also read that a few people have identified similarities between this book and ‘The Great Gatsby’, a book which is referenced in this story several times. In particular the notion that both Gatsby and Watanabe are in love with unobtainable women. I’ve read that Haruki Murakami rates F. Scott Fitzgerald highly and has previously translated several of his books from English to Japanese, so it makes sense that some of the same themes have crept into his own work. I know it’s controversial, but I didn’t like ‘The Great Gatsby’ either (I know.. sorry!) so maybe this kind of story just isn’t for me. I’m definitely not sworn off Murakami though, I’m happy to give more of his work a read. What would you recommend?
“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
Overall rating: “Norwegian Wood” by Japanese author Haruki Murakami had been on my list for a while but unfortunately it didn’t turn out to be my cup of tea. I enjoyed the writing style and some of the more poignant chapters but struggled quite a lot with the plot. This was a 2 star read for me.