Bel's Reviews > Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
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Jan 11, 11

Read in January, 2011

** spoiler alert ** Before I begin may it be known that this was not my first Murakami. I read Kafka on the Shore and loved it. I read Wind-up Bird Chronicle and loved that too. So I got to thinking that maybe I should read the book that made him famous, the book that everyone in Japan is said to have read, that compelled Murakami to flee the country to escape the media attention. How disappointed I was when I finished. Also, I wrote this on iPad so the punctuation and capitalisation is off. I tried to fix all the auto correct but I may have missed a few.

The characters in this book are all loathsome. Toru Watanabe, the main character, is a self-pitying man looking back on his days at university in Tokyo during the student riots in 1969-1970 when he supposedly "fell in love". He attempts to paint himself as a "nice guy", deluded into believing himself to be honest and who has "never lied in his life" (an idea which is refuted several times in the novel. E.g. When midori asks him whether he slept  with Naoko since and he replies "we didn't do anything" - yeah, 'cause people generally rub up naked against each other and give blow jobs to anyone and everyone. You know, that's nothing. Also, bottom of page 350. Yeah) which often came off as whiny whenever he "felt bad" over the fact that he was not self-entitled to screwing people over and actually felt guilt (although this guilt only tended to manifest itself awhile later when he actually got around to thinking about people other than himself). One of many puzzling traits was his insistence at naming every single book and song that he was reading/listening to despite most of them being easily interchangeable, replaceable and irrelevant seeing as they had no correlation whatsoever to the plot or character development (a few exceptions being the song 'Norwegian Wood' [obviously], Das Kapital in relation with the setting of the student riots and the time, and there was a part where Toru was comparing himself to "Jay Gatsby watch(ing) that tiny light on the opposite shore night after night" [although I cringed at the feeble struggle to relate this tacky soap-operatic tale of Toru's wuv for Naoko's body to a symbol signifying Gatsby's obsession to repossess and re-enact what has evolved into a doomed and glittering illusion and the idea that the dream has surpassed the real and is better experienced from a distance]). Seriously, the number of smug name dropping probably extended the book a few dozen pages and you would think that someone who read so much would have at least developed even the smallest amount of empathy but, for all I know, Toru Watanabe spent all his time reading with his eyes glazed over thinking and feeling sorry for himself that he has to feel guilt over using girls as rebound.

What was even more depressing about this book was that every single female character was weak and dependent. From I'm-pretending-to-do-the-tough-girl-act-but-in-a-cute-subservient-way Midori who is needy and whiny (she has reasons for being moody and throwing tantrums but there are absolutely no excuses for being cruel and manipulative which is what she does to win Toru's heart) to I-don't-love-you-but-you-want-sex-and-blowjobs-and-I-can't-say-no-to-men Naoko to I'm-so-independent-and-empowering-and-independent-but-I-have-a-"small stomach"-and-can't-eat-much-*coughi'minsecureaboutmyselfcough* Reiko. Midori, however, is the character who ticks the generic box of 'being different', a thin veil attempting to hide the fact that she is actually the fantasy girlfriend of lot of insecure men. She is cute, she is kinky, desperate to sexually please men, is interested in "fuck(ing) like crazy", she is friendly and social with a lot of people, she cooks good food, cleans and is a hard worker and shows that she can slavishly take care of men ie domestic goddess. "I'm looking for selfishness. Perfect selfishness. Like, say I  tell you I want to eat strawberry shortbread. And you stop everything you're doing and run out and buy it for me. And you come back out of breath and get down on your knees and hold this strawberry shortbread out to me. And I say I don't want it any more and throw it out the window. That's what I'm looking for." Are we supposed to find this endearing? Are we supposed to read this in wonder and awe and repeat to ourselves what Toru says afterward: "I've never met a girl like you"?

The thing is, it is in Murakami's style to present a lot of truisms and while in his other works, they are intertwined with the surreal in such a way that it doesn't matter whether they are huge generalisations or just really cheesy because they come from dreamlike layers echoing the absurd and the interior monologue of the character and so it isn't preachy, just something to think about. In Norwegian Wood, they are brash and blunt. The characters make sweeping and often blindly hypocritical and prejudiced assumptions disguised in the appearance of truth mostly about how they are so 'different' and everyone else are such boring sheep (in predictable hipster style: "liek omigod, i'm, liek, sooo unique and different?!?! Liek omigod, my tiny brain never thought of that!!!!") such as "never again would she have that self-centred beauty that seems to take its own independent course in adolescent girls and no one else". So ALL adolescent girls are all self-centred (sorry, self-centred beauty - like totally a compliment!!! *eyeroll*), huh, and Toru here wants US to think that HE is so exceptional when he manages to group half the population into (at one point) possessing a particular trait? There are a lot of "I don't know, I'm just a girl" moments but I reaaaaally don't want to have to open the book again and go look for them.

I could go on and on about how odious Naoko and Reiko were but this review is getting really long and all I've been talking about are the characters.

The plot, in all its boring and barely existing glory:
Toru Watanabe runs into Naoko, the girlfriend of Kizuki, his high school best friend (who had suicided a couple of years previous), and realises she has a hawt body. On her birthday he rapes (sorry, "makes love" to) her while she's distraught over Kizuki and she runs away to a mental asylum to get better. Toru whinges about loneliness. He meets Midori. Everything gets dragged out about how they are both sad and lonely. Toru visits Naoko at the asylum and meets her roommate, Reiko. Toru chooses Midori over naoko because she is a "real, live girl". Naoko commits suicide. Toru and Reiko fuck in her memory.

Half the book is whinge and whine, the other half objectifies women.     

Positives:

1. Murakami writes beautifully. It's as simple as that. Norwegian Wood is what you would get if you stamped a picture of the ceiling of the Sistine chapel onto a pair of crocs.

2. My mum likes the Beatles song and I've also had the song stuck in my head since reading this book.

3. It's over.      
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Comments (showing 1-14)




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message 14: by Megan (new) - rated it 1 star

Megan I'm halfway through and the criticisms you touch on have been at the back of my mind, but you put them down well! I just got to the part where Reiko is basically saying she went bat shit crazy this last time because she's a closet lesbo and I'm appalled. He's painting lesbians horribly and not affirming a woman's--no HUMAN's--right to love anyone, even if they are not of the opposite sex. I'm upset because Murakami is one of my favorite authors.


message 13: by Bel (last edited Feb 27, 2012 11:59PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Bel Megan wrote: "I'm halfway through and the criticisms you touch on have been at the back of my mind, but you put them down well! I just got to the part where Reiko is basically saying she went bat shit crazy thi..."

Thanks for commenting. You're right about how Murakami negatively portrays lesbians as well and it seems so archaic to segregate sexes so harshly as he does in Norwegian Wood. As if, in the world, people are either human or women and there must have been some unnatural occurrence for people to act outside of that idea.

Don't worry, I think everyone is entitled to at least one dud. Luckily, I haven't encountered any more Norwegian Woods.


Olivia You said everything that was itching at me about this book! I was afraid to have it confirmed, but you are so right. I think I have to go back and rewrite my review. You are so accurate to point out Naoko was raped by Taru.


Brent This is the best review of this book I've come across. I gave it a third star for the beautiful prose, but you stated all the thoughts I had but couldn't figure out how to say.


Kaoru Takarai I absolutely agree with you. Like, I just finished reading this book and I was looking at the high ratings and wondering WHY THE HELL?! I don't get it. It's absurd, and pretentious, and manipulative, and unrelatable. No wonder Murakami keeps saying he isn't proud at all.


message 9: by Krishna (new)

Krishna Good review.


Alyssa Liked this review better than the book. Haha.


message 7: by Paul Martin (last edited Oct 22, 2013 01:21AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Martin "Half the book is whinge and whine, the other half objectifies women. "

Well, that pretty much summarized your review. But seriously? Firstly, this is a book about a depressed teenager, of course it's a whine. Secondly, I'm sorry to tell you that guys DO objectify women now and then, exactly like Toru does. Of course, you're free to hate that, but it's as realistic as it gets.

How does he portray lesbians negatively? Do you think it's not the slightest bit traumatizing to suddenly find out that you're gay, in a society and time where it was considered a huge shame?

How on earth does Toru rape Naoko? Is a person automatically raped if he or she is crying before or after the act? Does it say that Toru forced her? Does it say that she wanted him to stop? No, it doesn't. It says that she made it clear what she wanted. Claiming that she was raped just looks like a feeble attempt to further discredit the book. And what if she had been raped? Would that have made the book worse? No definitely not. A lot sicker, definitely, but not worse. You shouldn't mix 'realistic' with 'comfortable'.

Why are you pointing out Toru's flaws as a human being in support of the fact that you didn't like the book? He's not supposed to be perfect, he's supposed to be realistic, and whether you like it or not, he is.

Every plot ever written sounds lame when you sum it up in such a ridiculous and patronizing way. I'm not saying you should like it, everybody can't like everything, but it seems as though you've felt the urge to overcompensate for the fact that most people like this book. I didn't love this book, and a lot of the overly positive reviews strike me as odd, to say the least, but yours is just as bad in the other direction.


deniz ozturk So correct and also funny comments! I agree with you totally + the useless and not beautiful sex scenes!


deniz ozturk And While reading it I kept telling to myself, "when is he gonna cut the crap about this boring teenage boy and begin to tell the real stroy?" Which, he never did :/


Xena My god i freaking love this review. The imagery of Sistine chapel on crocs will never leave my mind now lol. This was my first Murakami, I didn't find it completely horrid, but your points are right on. I think i'll try his others to see if they're better. You forgot to mention the most odious character of them all--Nagasawa. During the book I kind of want to get in there and kick him really hard in the balls and then bash his face into the wall. And slap Hatsumi for letting herself be treated like garbage by that human trash. Ugh.


Xena I gave the book 3 stars because there were bits and moments in the book i enjoyed (such as Reiko's background story in classical music training, the description about her playing music for herself vs. for performance, idk, I personally love classical music and maybe that's why that particular bit resonated with me). My biggest issues with the book aside from unbelievably pitiful characters, are the sexism and objectification of women, and the stereotyping of men..


Valerie W This is a masterfully written review.

The only reason I am dragging myself through the book is so:
1) I can criticize it accurately and in a proper way (which you have obviously MORE than done)
2) It is wonderfully written
4) I am trying to see if he will he will somehow redeem himself later on in the book...which it seems like he will not... :(

On a different note, I highly recommend his short stories...have not yet read his other novels.

BRAVO and THANK YOU!

(By the way, love the metaphor!)


Simon Woodside It seems as though you're complaining that the characters are deeply flawed and that a lot of what they do doesn't make logical sense. That's exactly what appealed to me about Norwegian Wood.


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