Toru Watanabe, upon hearing "Norwegian Wood" many years later, recalls his first loves during his student years in late sixties Tokyo. He remembers thToru Watanabe, upon hearing "Norwegian Wood" many years later, recalls his first loves during his student years in late sixties Tokyo. He remembers the quietly troubled Naoko, who is committed to a sanitorium after having sex for the first time; and the lively Midori, a fellow student who he becomes friends with. There are so many issues I had with Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood (yes, my first Murakami), but I also found it was evocative of the emotional confusion of friendship, romance and student life.
Toru himself is such a painfully blank character. I found it somewhat troubling that the most interesting characters are the female characters, Naoko and Midori, but their stories are told entirely by and through Toru Watanabe's experience of them. Naoko and Midori are set up as polar opposites - sexually frigid vs sexually liberated, meek vs outgoing - an opposition which isn't fair to either of them. I really loved Midori as a character, so many of her non sequiturs had me laughing out loud and she's vivid and full of life (without coming across as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which is what I was expecting) where neither Naoko or Toru were, but I also felt great sympathy toward Naoko as well. But, it felt like so much of Toru's concern about her was "so, when will be able to have sex again?" rather than genuine compassion for her emotional distress.
Also, it was disconcerting how many of female characters were willing to have sex with Toru, (view spoiler)[the final sex scene with Reiko was particularly baffling. What, they're having sex in Naoko's honour? Because Naoko couldn't/wouldn't? Is that part of the healing and grieving process? I just didn't get it. (hide spoiler)]
Otherwise, I did enjoy the quieter moments of this story - the budding friendships, the conversations had while walking, the mundane routine of solitude, the tales of dormitory living (Toru's roommate Storm Trooper was a highlight) - but ultimately the issues I had with the narrative's treatment of sexual relationships and gender diminished most of my enjoyment of Norwegian Wood.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more