Mark David Gan's Reviews > Norwegian Wood
by Haruki Murakami, Jay Rubin
Age 37, Toru Watanabe hears a sweet orchestral version of Norwegian Wood and his thoughts are immediately transported to a bittersweet scene in his youthful past. His memories take him to a time when he was a drama student in Tokyo and was slowly falling in love with the beautiful but emotionally-unsettled Naoko—the girlfriend of his late best friend. But in that past, another girl enters his life—the lively and childishly flirtatious Midori—just when Naoko grows ever more distant and sinks deeper in helpless depression. Torn between embracing a tangible, blossoming relationship and holding on to a vaguely-reciprocated but idealistically-sworn love, Toru finds himself in a sea of confusing emotions, swayed by constantly-shifting tides of affection from two very different women.
In this book, established surrealist Haruki Murakami deviates from his popular style and skillfully ventures to the more familiar world of realism, taking readers on a rollercoaster ride that leaves them utterly-absorbed in the protagonist's own feelings of elation and despair. And with his mastery of the written form, he captures in this captivating novel the highs and lows of being young and passionately in love. An engrossing story, with some scenes ridiculously comical, while some others exquisitely sensual. And yet what's truly fascinating about Murakami's novel is not the story itself, but rather the vivid characters that he used to embellish it with.
This breathtakingly-nostalgic novel entitled after the Beatles song is what made Murakami almost as popular in Japan as the British band that wrote the song. Besides the wistful lead character that seems rather typical of Murakami's heroes, the story's sentimental feel is further amplified by a series of solitary reflections and exchanged letters—some of which letters span almost an entire short chapter. Likely, readers will find themselves reading those letters and contemplating those reflections as if they were their very own—nearly sharing the same worries and the same questions as those of the protagonist's.
Engaging, evocative, and beautifully-melancholic—Norwegian Wood is an unforgettable tale of love, loss, and hope. There is little wonder then that the Glasgow Herald remarks: "Murakami is, without a doubt, one of the world's finest novelists".