Book Review: Norwegian Wood

I spent the good part of my Sunday afternoon yesterday finishing Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood. My first Murakami novel was The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, quite different from this read, which lacks the mystical elements of the later publication. The novel is told from the perspective of the 37 year old Toru Watanabe, who reflects on his first years of college in Tokyo after hearing an instrumental arrangement of The Beatles song Norwegian Wood. His story focuses on his relationships with two very different girls, Noako, the girlfriend of his high school friend, Kizuki, and Midori, who he meets in college. After Kizuki committed suicide their senior year, Toru continued seeing Naoko, mostly during walks through the countryside, but because of Naoko's own psychological deterioration, he finds himself unable to be with her completely.

Toru begins with his adjustment to college life in the late 1960s, living with a weird roommate he nicknames Storm Trooper and befriending the charismatic Nagasawa, who encourages him to join him on outings to pick up women for one night stands. He meets the sexually liberated Midori, with whom he kindles a relationship between visits with Naoko, who's committed herself to an nontraditional institution for psychological healing. In the translator's note, Jay Rubin explained that some of Murkami's earlier fans were disappointed in that this novel seemed to be just a "love story." Even if it were just a love story, I think the author successfully brought more to the table than you'd get with your typical Nicholas Sparks, Nora Roberts, etc. sort of romance. But then again, I haven't read any Sparks or Roberts in a while, so I could be mistaken. Anyway, I feel Toru's situation forced him to mature and understand his feelings for both Naoko and Midori in a way that isn't typical of post adolescent relationships.

I can't really call myself a hardcore Murakami follower, but I've enjoyed all of his novels that I've read, and Norwegian Wood certainly isn't an exception. In many ways, Toru's story reminded me of my own post adolescent adulthood, trying to understand my relationships and how I fit in the world. Though there are a few graphic descriptions of sex, they aren't gratuitous--Murakami successfully demonstrates how they are important to the plot and the development of the characters. If you're a Murakami fan and haven't picked this one up or if you're new to him and just looking for a mature romantic coming of age story, I'm positive you'll enjoy this book.

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