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.
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