Rhiannon's Reviews > Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
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Jul 10, 07

bookshelves: fiction, translated
Read in July, 2007

Norwegian Wood is about a young man starting college in Tokyo in the late '60s. He falls in love with Naoko, the former girlfriend of his best friend, who had committed suicide at 17 (the friend, not Naoko). While Naoko is dealing with her extensive personal problems, he forms a friendship with a free-thinking girl named Midori.

I've been trying to figure out what I wanted to say about this book for a while now. It's my second Murakami book (the first being Wind-Up Bird Chronicle) and I had very similar reactions to both - I really enjoyed them, but have a hard time saying why.

Characters are normally what make or break a book for me, so I really shouldn't have liked this. Toru, the main character, is pretty much a non-entity to me - I feel like I know absolutely nothing about him. He's very consciously set up as a Nick Carroway (Great Gatsby) figure, and I can't stand Nick. (The boy tells me he's also a Holden Caulfield figure, and that's also explicit in the text, but I've never read Catcher in the Rye.) And at least I just don't care about Toru - with the exception of Midori, I pretty much can't stand everyone else. Naoko is so manipulative and so determined to drag everyone around her down with her, and it kills me that this never dawns on those around her.

There were also a lot of things I don't really know that I can address fully, because I don't have the cultural context. These are issues surrounding gender, sexuality, perceptions of mental illness and difference, that I can't fully engage with due to not being Japanese or having knowledge or experience regarding Japan in the 60's.

However, as I said, I did like this book a lot. Midori is funny and sweet and really every scene that had her in it was golden. The pacing was perfect - just the right amount of odd scenes interspersed with great explicative conversations. A little too much of Toru sitting around contemplating how he does the same thing all the time (which is primarily sitting around contemplating how he does the same thing all the time), but it rang true with the rest of the book's driving themes.
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