Wednesday, May 31, 2017

[Review] Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Format: Paperback
Rating: 3 stars

 Published: 1987

Goodreads Synopsis:
Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.
A poignant story of one college student's romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man's first, hopeless, and heroic love.
This is a hard book for me to review.

I say this with the knowledge that my friend recommended me this book many years ago and I finally picked it up and finished it for #asianlitbingo not quite understanding what I had read. It is clear that Murakami writing style is artistic, even poetic at times. It even bares likeness to Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, which our narrator Toru mentions reading - this likeness I will explain shortly.

I was really unsure as to why my friend has recommended this book, beyond the fact of reading literature outside of YA; Norwegian Wood is depressing and dark, written by Murakami during a period of depression. This review mostly stems from my discussion with her after I read the book. There are deep meanings behind it - of loss, of sexuality, of youth, especially in one's college years (in a way, a coming of age novel), and of importance (what we find important now vs. later).

When you read it first, it takes awhile to process all of this deep stuff, because our narrator Toru is basically going through the big black hole of confusion that is college. And not just books and tests and homework, but the more nitty-gritty problems that come with growing up. He was once best friends with Kizuki, and Kizuki dated this girl, Naoko. The three of them were inseparable in high school, until Kizuki commits suicide. Toru himself drifts away from any connection to Kizuki until he reconnects with Naoko years later, and realizes his feelings for her. However, Naoko has so many complications going on in her life that she pushes herself away from Toru. Toru is left trying to figure out his life and the people within it, including a new girl who is so different from Naoko, Midori.

Now, many characters in the book comment on this, but they all praise the fact that Toru is the apparent "good guy".

"You [Toru] are a good person, though. I can tell that much from looking at you. I can tell these things after seven years of watching people come and go here: there are people who can open their hearts and people who can't. You're one of the ones who can. Or, more precisely, if you want to."

He constantly comments on the fact that his friend Nagasawa sleeps with countless women and feels nothing, even though he's dating Hatsumi and knows that this hurts her. He remarks that his friend is a terrible person, yet Toru is practically the same. He sleeps with girls, left and right, even when he's sorting out his feelings for Naoko and Midori. He even lies to Naoko about sleeping with anyone else.

Toru's more or less an unreliable narrator, and it's up to readers to decide if he's really a good person or not, but I'm leading towards the fact he's a realistic character. He does put himself up on this pedestal in comparison to other people.

Plotwise, there is a certain level of predictability that occurs in the halfway point of the novel. Many characters in the book die, and many characters Toru ends up sleeping with. It's either one way or the other in Norwegian Wood. The romance itself I didn't quite get. Naoko is similar to Daisy in The Great Gatsby. Like Daisy, she's the girl Toru dreams of, but is unattainable. She's out of reach, a tragic love story. Midori, on the other hand, is an interesting love interest, but I fail to see the chemistry between the characters. But Toru is kind of a terrible person, and so is Midori (she describes love as something where she can throw a cake out a window and her true love will buy her the cake of her desires), so I guess terribleness breeds attraction?

This turned into a very strong analysis of Norwegian Wood with little on my opinion. I can probably probe deeply into it even more and expand on this critique even more... Things like the clear objectification of women (like really, anyone can see that he described himself as a savior for Naoko/Midori/Reiko without even using the word savior). It was a mystifying ride, but it's best I curtail the review for now.

Regardless of how I felt about Norwegian Wood, I would definitely look into his other books for comparison/analysis.

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