Review: Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood
By Haruki Murakami
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780375704024, September 2000, 304pp.)

The Short of It:

Norwegian Wood is arguably THE book that put Murakami on the map, yet its transparency and predictability frustrated me.

The Rest of It:

Murakami is known for his odd, quirky characters and his affinity for talking cats, but Norwegian Wood is a departure from that. Yes, the characters are quirky but probably the least quirky I’ve encountered thus far and I’ve read eight of his books in the past year and a half.

Essentially, the book functions as a love story. At its center is Toru Watanabe. He’s an average guy and a decent student. While at college, he befriends Kizuki and Naoko who happen to be dating but the two of them are not complete without the addition of Toru’s friendship. All three of them acknowledge this at some point in their relationship, yet when Kizuki dies tragically, Naoko and Toru remain friends, but their friendship is challenged by Naoko’s inability to function without Kizuki. This forces her to spend some time away, recuperating from her sadness.

While away, Toru goes about his life as he normally would trying to figure out where he stands with Naoko and then in walks Midori. Midori has her own issues and although the two take comfort in each other’s company, they can’t seem to move past the Toru/Naoko connection. What starts off as an innocent friendship turns into something else, but how far can it go when your heart also loves another?

My reaction to the book may have been due to the translation but the writing was simplistic to me. Overly so, and that’s not something I expect while reading a Murakami novel. The dialogue was stilted and almost seemed forced in some places. At first, I enjoyed the slowness of it, but when the dialogue continued this way, I began to get frustrated with it. It really played out as a “He Said, She Said” and its predictability in both plot and pattern nearly put me to sleep at one point. But, there are telltale signs of Murakami’s familiar style too which is probably why I continued reading. His characters are always so interesting even if what they had to say wasn’t.

However, there was a “creep” factor to this novel that I’ve not experienced with any of Murakami’s other books. The “relations” between some of the characters set my teeth on edge. Many have said this is one of Murakami’s more erotic novels but I didn’t find it to be overly erotic or graphic. However, I did feel uncomfortable numerous times while reading it. The conversations about sex just didn’t seem realistic me. You wouldn’t walk up to a friend and say, “Hey, it would be nice to see your penis just to see how impressive it is. Don’t you think?” Not a line from the book but it’s a good example of what I am talking about. Polite and smutty all at the same time.

Overall, I enjoyed the musical references and listened to Norwegian Wood a few times while reading but the story was very slow and the high creep factor turned me off. Not one of my favorites, but I suspect that readers who do not appreciate the surreal quality of his other novels, might prefer the straight-forwardness of this one.

Note from Ti: Haven’t seen the movie yet but I’m curious enough to check it out.

Source: Purchased
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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27 Responses

  1. Out of all Murakami’s novels, I liked this one the best. I find that I enjoy his short story collections more than his novels — probably because it is just the amount of “dose” of quirkiness =)

  2. Hmm, I’ve heard this is one of his better books…though that may be from less experienced Murakami readers….I can’t abide stilted language…that would drive me knuts!

    • This is going to sound funny but I’ve always referred to Murakami as a Japanese Cowboy. Imagine a Japanese guy walking into a saloon and asking for a drink. What comes out would be a mash-up of East meets West That’s how his writing is but the dialogue usually isn’t that way. These characters had a funny way of talking. It’s even mentioned in the book by some of the other characters. “Gee, you talk funny. Why do you talk like that?” Seriously, it was weird to have the characters notice it too.

  3. Ti, this sounds rather interesting – erotic and creepy. Hmmm. Definitely doesn’t like Murakami from what you wrote or at least based on what I’ve come to expect from his writing. Then again if it was his earlier work, well that might explain it. I have a copy that I mooched, so I’ll definitely be reading it at some point. I do like that inserted musical references in it – I’ll definitely be listening to the Beatles while I read it. Great post – as always ;)

    • So many warned me about how erotic this novel is but I didn’t think so. It has sex in it but it’s so clinical! I can’t imagine anyone getting fired up with this one. LOL.

  4. I feel as though I have an interest in this author from ll that you have said about him…but not enough to try him out yet.

    I do love the way you dissect a book!

    • I’d be interested in witnessing your reaction to any of his books. He is a serious foodie. Always talking about food but he can write entire chapters on pasta boiling and somehow, it’s riveting. This one was not as riveting and the pace was so much slower but still enjoyable, just in a different way. My least favorite but still good in its own way.

  5. True to form you have cut right to the chase and given such a helpful opinion of not only this book but of the author as well. I know you are a fan and though I haven’t read any of his books, you certainly have my attention. Am I wrong, or is there also a song called Norwegian Wood? Seems I remember playing it in band on my clarinet and on the piano. Oops, I’m showing my inner geek! :/

    • There is a song! The Beatles did it and I included the link towards the end of the review if you want to have a listen.

  6. That penis part just cracked me up Ti, and though I had some trouble with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles I want to try Murakami again, just not this one. I don’t really like stilted conversation in a book, or scenes that feel weird and forced, so I’s not likely have a good time with this book. I need to find that perfect book from him to start with.

    • LOL!! That’s how the dialogue was though!! They’d say stuff like “Oh, it would be good to have sex right now.” Or, “Let’s go see a porno!” It was an odd way to speak. I was checking out the reviews on Amazon and soooo many of his fans said this translation is what caused it to read that way. Apparently, there was anotherEnglishtranslation available at one time and that was one better.

  7. It was my first Murakami and it frustrated me so much that I still haven’t mustered the will to ready anything else by him… no matter how many people love him to bits.

  8. I’ll put this one off, that is if I can ever bring myself to read one of his books. I have Wind-Up Bird and Kafka in my possession, I just haven’t motivated myself to jump in. If I DO come across a book with a creep factor, it will totally turn me off. That damned “A Reliable Wife” had a creep factor, and I could barely bring myself to finish it.

    • The creep factor here is a bit more than Reliable Wife. I listened to Kafka on audio as well as reading it in print so maybe that’s the way you should go if you choose to try him out.

  9. The slowness and awkward language probably makes it a miss for me. I’ll probably have the song Norwegian Wood stuck in my head the rest of the day now.

  10. I have heard that this book is on the erotic side, which is one reason why I figured I wouldn’t read it as my first of his. I still haven’t figured out which I want to start with, so if you have any suggestions I’d welcome them. I like the example you created of “smutty & polite” it made me laugh and definitely gives me an idea of what the prose would be like.

    • If you want to just experience some of his writing… check out any of his short story collections. But for novels, so far Kafka on the Shore is my favorite but it is very weird to start.

      Visit my blog: Book Chatter

  11. Sounds really weird… ah, I just don’t know if I’m ready to take on a Murakami book yet.

  12. It was weird at the end. Although as you said I like it for being the more straightforward of all Murakami’s books I still find it lacks the honesty of some of his short stories such as After Dark, Sputnik Sweetheart of the one I just read a few days ago “South of the Border, West of the Sun”:

    http://bibliojunkie.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/south-of-the-border-west-of-the-sun/

    But I’m so glad you read the book! The movie is a little strange as well but I thought it was quite good. Maybe it is cultural differences that make it feel a little odd. I thought the oddness of Naoko’s characters add the gloominess in the overall feel of the movie.

  13. Movie?? Wasn’t aware of that. I do want to get to my copy. Sorry it didn’t live up to some of his other works for you.

  14. I want to see the movie tho I’m stuck on the 1st chapter of the book, because it’s on kindle and I prefer paper books. Must finish it however, as I promised myself!

    • I tend to read faster when I am on my Kindle. That may be better when you get to the middle where it slows down a bit. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

  15. I had been really looking forward to this one. It’s sad that this is very predictable and the writing too simple. The plot does sound interesting.

  16. I think I would watch this first and then read it. This author still intimidates me!!

  17. What a disappointment. I keep thinking I’m going to pick up Murakami, since you love him so much and I had really thought I’d start with this one. Instead I’ll be passing on this one and picking up one that you liked.

  18. I was very curious to see what you thought about this as it is the first Murakami fiction book I read. I wasn’t “wowed” by it and I’m glad to hear you weren’t either. I thought it was pretty graphic too in a surprising way. I’m glad to hear it though … I was afraid this was representative of his style and I’m glad to hear it isn’t. On to his weird books!

  19. [...] Joyce 43. The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon 44. Hummingbirds by Joshua Gaylord 45. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami 46. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn 47. Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer [...]

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