WRITING STYLE: 4.5/5
ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 4.5/5
“That song can make me feel so sad,” said Naoko. “I don’t know, I guess I imagine myself wandering in a deep wood. I’m all alone and it’s cold and dark, and nobody comes to save me. That’s why Reiko never plays it unless I request it.” – Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
It really takes a lot of courage for me to state it here that I had never read a Murakami before this. This was my first Murakami and quite obviously, my expectations were too high. I realize that I shouldn’t have done that but I had heard so much about him and his dark writing that it was difficult not to.
What to expect?
Norwegian Wood is a book which derives its name from a famous 1965 song by Beatles. It is one of the most popular books of Murakami and is set in the Japan of the 1960s during the period of student revolution. It’s a coming-of-age dark romance and drama which is melancholic and strangely peaceful at the same time. The setting tells us a lot about the Japan of the 1960s and what it was like to be a grown adult (amidst the weak-willed hypocritical student revolution) in those days.
The story as it goes
The story is told in the first-person voice of a guy called Toru Watanabe. Toru moves to Tokyo for further studies because he wants to get away from his melancholic past – the suicide of his best friend Kizuki has him shattered and his only way forward is to move on.
Naoko, the then girlfriend of his dead friend also comes to Tokyo for the same reason and a chance encounter one day brings them together. Toru is in love with Naoko but Naoko is broken. She harbours a million secrets and is fighting her own demons.
In between comes Midori, who is fun and vivacious but just like the others, she is broken too. Midori falls in love with Toru but it’s not as easy as it seems. As they all struggle to keep their individual monsters at bay, life moves on and the characters find themselves in a world which is scarred by passion, grief, casual sex, weird friendships and death.
The characters are what makes Norwegian Wood great. Toru, Naoko, Midori, Reiko and Nagasawa are all brilliant in their own ways. Caught between what they desire and what they think is ideal, they often end up making decisions that they themselves don’t understand.
Toru is increasingly torn between his duty to Naoko and his feelings for Midori. Naoko is distant and emotionally closed but Midori is available and in love with him. Still, it is Toru’s indecisiveness that makes him live a life full of casual sex, uneasy friendships, forced isolation, heartfelt regret and the accompanying melancholy.
Naoko is a different character altogether. She appears to be broken beyond repair but she desires Toru too. Weak-willed and depressed, she is unable to come out of her shell and be happy. Midori is peculiar too, she lies about her family, treats Toru weirdly, cannot get rid of her boyfriend and is still in love with Toru.
The depth of each of these characters and the way they are so caught up in their griefs is what makes this book such an enthralling read.
The writing style of Murakami.
Norwegian Wood is written in the first-person voice of Toru. Toru tells us the story in a flashback wherein he reflects on the events of his early years by the way of penning it down in a diary. The way the novels begins is as dramatic as the entire book. In the first few pages itself, Murakami is able to cast a spell on the reader.
Haruki Murakami creates an intricate web of plots – interconnected and overlapping. Towards the middle, for some time, Norwegian Wood does turn a bit monotonous and dull but it soon picks up the pace again. Even the backstories of its side characters and their relationships with the main characters are so realistic and interesting that it is difficult to not marvel at the author’s brilliance.
The writing itself is simple and Murakami’s language is fluid and breezy. Though he does not delve deep into philosophy, the characters by the way of their actions and conversations share lessons worth learning, and philosophies profoundly deep.
The climax is what I disliked the most about Norwegian Wood. The end was too rushed and abrupt. As a reader deeply engrossed and invested in the lives of the characters, I did not get the necessary closure. A lot was left to the reader’s imagination when then story finished.
Final verdict and entertainment quotient
My final verdict would be to go for this book. It is a sad dark romance but nevertheless its deeply profound and intense and is meant to be read slowly while absorbing the pain of its characters and the depth of their passion. This is my first Murakami and I am irrevocably in love with his writing.
The frequent references to western music and literature are something which creates a strong connection with the reader and becomes an integral part of the reading experience. I am sure nobody will be able to resist falling in love with the Beatles number that this book is named after.
Pick it if
It’s a Murakami, do you read any better reason than that?
Skip it if
Skip it only if you don’t like dark romances and dramas. You might also want to stay away if you don’t enjoy slow reads.
Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of the Norwegian Wood using the link below.