Norwegian Wood

What if somewhere inside me there is a dark limbo where all the truly important memories are heaped and slowly turning into mud?

Named quite obviously after the famous Beatles song, this is the book that catapulted Murakami into the literary spotlight and made him flee Japan for a number of years, as he was quite unprepared for the amount of attention the success of the book brought. It should be noted before reading any further that I love Murakami. He is the only author to make me miss train stops and indeed trains completely. The only one to access real human emotion in a way that isn’t conjured up, like so many heart-tugging stringed instruments at the end of soppy movies. The one I would choose if I could take but one author with me to a desert island (if it’s of any interest, Baudolino by Umberto Eco would probably be my first choice book on its own). First reading the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle last year reignited my love of reading, and was the first of Murakami’s work I had seen. Norwegian Wood was the fourth or fifth down the line. More after the break…

Norwegian Wood is the story of Toru Watanabe who, during his flight to Germany in his late 30s, hears the very same Beatles song and starts to reminisce about the events that occurred when he was a Drama student (for no real reason) at college in Tokyo. He is in love with his friend Naoko, who is shy, strange and emotionally unstable after the suicide of her boyfriend, and Toru’s best friend, Kizuki but Toru is worried that the feeling is not reciprocated. Enter Midori, a girl in Toru’s class who is the polar opposite of Naoko (except for maybe the strange, no one in Murakami’s books is ever completely normal) in that she is outgoing, lively and quite spur of the moment. When Naoko moves to a sanatorium in the mountains, Toru really begins to consider his relationships with these two conflicting love interests and also meets the figure of Reiko, a middle-aged woman also living in the sanatorium who committed herself after a dalliance with a young female student some years before. The conversations and encounters that Toru has with these and various other people are the stage and his thoughts the narration as the story unfolds.

The quotation at the top captures a little bit of what this book is about – what the important things in life really are, and how we should remember them, as well as all the little discoveries people make along the way finding out what these things are. Revelations about relationships and sexuality, formative ideas all tied together with the student revolution, music and literature in Murakami’s fantastic novel. There is the character of ‘Uniform’ at Toru’s university who fastidiously observes the raising of the flag every morning. It is nostalgia done every bit right, and it is the hollow truth of the effect that lovelorn teenage years have on a person. As the reader, you never quite find out what situation with Toru is in at the start of the book on the plane; the story never returns to him, but instead acts as a gorgeously written testimony to the gravity of the situations that occurred some twenty years prior. I would recommend this and any Murakami to absolutely anyone and everyone. Apologies if this write-up was a little gushing, fan girl moment over.

Bonus material:

Double bonus material:  I just found out that a Japanese-language film is being made of the book (yay for dubbing) with music apparently being supplied by Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead fame. At this rate, I’ll have most of the reading list on DVD and we’ll have the 2011 Film List.

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