Review: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Recently I've been watching a lot of BookTubers who each have favourite authors, whose books they autobuy or whose events they run to attend. I don't really have that; I mean, I love Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, but I haven't really read any of his other works, the same with David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas or Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. So what I'm trying to say is that I'm trying to read through the back catalogue of some author's whose work I like. One of these authors is Haruki Murakami, whose works I recently dipped into with his magical realist work After Dark. Norwegian Wood, a more realist tome, is feted as his greatest work and thus this was the one I picked up next.
Norwegian Wood tells the story of Toru Watanabe, a young drama student who lives in a halls of residence in Tokyo. It follows the two key romances in his young life, one with a woman from his home town, Naoko, and one with a student he meets in Tokyo, Midori. Both women, despite their differences- Naoko is beautiful yet troubled, Midori lively and challenging- are equally strong and interesting characters. The tension between past and future in these two characters, especially in relation to Toru, is palpable; Toru has to choose whether to bring Naoko out of his past into his present or whether to bring Midori from not just his present but also into his future. I can't help but think that these two female characters are a metaphor for Japan itself, or at least the reduction of traditional values in favour of modern, technological ones. It is a tale of loss and change, about a tumultuos time not only in the life of Watanabe and countless other 20 year olds but in the that of Japan.
Before this I had read Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides- which I disliked as I really didn't get the point of it- and this was also a book littered with characters with suicidal dependencies. I did not realise this when I picked up the book, I wasn't aiming for a reading theme for the month. Murakami does indeed deal with serious topics here, however he does it so well and with such tact. I think it helps that he explores all of these troubled personalities through the relatively calm and serene narrator Watanabe.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, it had the perfect mix of beautiful writing, strong underlying themes and an engaging plot which did twist and turn. I was left shocked several times whilst reading.
What is it about? Loss, loneliness, growing up.
Would I recommend? Yes, definitely. I'm looking forward to reading some of Murakami's more wildly imaginative works.