Shaz S's Reviews > Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
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Mar 29, 11

bookshelves: 2011
Read from July 29, 2010 to February 10, 2011 — I own a copy

This is supposed to be Murakami's huge coming-of-age novel which everyone in Japan has allegedly read. The story is pretty simple. Toru Watanbe is a college student in 1960's Japan in love with his dead best-friend's girlfriend, Naoko. Then he meets Midori, a lively, free-spirited, fun loving girl, thus forming the third angle to the triangle. There is a fourth angle too but by that time you know where the narrative is going and everything turns predictable and boring.

I never thought I would give three stars to a Murakami novel but this is by far the worst book I have read by him. Don’t get me wrong, it’s brilliant when it comes to dealing with aspects of love, lust, suicide, friendship and grief. If it were a bit lighter, I could have compared it to "Catcher in the rye" but some of the issues handle here are too deep for a YA novel. Murakami mastery at saying a thousand things in the simplest of sentences and turning the most mundane into a thing of beauty is undeniable. What I miss is the darkness, the cryptic underbelly, the hauntingly beautiful way in which me makes worlds turn upside down. There is no instance of surrealist magic-realism moments that are the author's trademark and the lack of them makes me feel cheated. Maybe the book did so well because it is the simplest and quite unlike any of his other work. I only came to know about the Beatle's song after I read this book but was disappointed when I came to know there is no hidden meaning in the lyrics.

The narrator comes across as very wannabe-ish and judgemental. His attitude is irritating at best and subscribes to the school of "I am so different I read books by dead authors but definitely not a freak like my cleanliness-obsessed roommate who deserves to be made fun of." And holy overdose of sex, Batman!! There is a sex scene practically every 10 pages or so. I wouldn't have a problem with it if it wasn't so blatantly unconvincing and childish. Talk about male fantasies... There is the virginal, shy, brooding best-friend's girlfriend; there is a kawaii nympho who loves to cook and then there is the chain-smoking, guitar-playing older woman. Hmmm.

Now to the thing I do love. I love is how the essence of Tokyo is captured in the book. Although the book in set in late 1960 the description of energy and atmosphere (The record stores, the train stations, the bookshops, the crowd and the noises) of the city holds true till today. I love how everything is tinged with melancholy and longing. I particularly love the scene where Toru and Midori are on the terrace watching the neighbourhood fire.

But most of all I love how the book begins:
"I do need that time, though, for Naoko's face to appear. And as the years have passed, the time has grown longer. The sad truth is that what I could recall in five seconds all too needed ten, then thirty, then a full minute-like shadows lengthening at dusk. Someday, I suppose, the shadows will be swallowed up in darkness. There is no way around it: my memory is growing ever more distant from the spot where Naoko used to stand-ever more distant from the spot where my old self used to stand. And nothing but scenery, that view of the meadow in October, returns again and again to me like a symbolic scene in a movie. Each time is appears, it delivers a kick to some part of my mind. "Wake up," it says. "I'm still here. Wake up and think about it. Think about why I'm still here." The kicking never hurts me. There's no pain at all. Just a hollow sound that echoes with each kick. And even that is bound to fade one day. At the Hamburg airport, though, the kicks were longer and harder than usual. Which is why I am writing this book. To think. To understand. It just happens to be the way I'm made. I have to write things down to feel I fully comprehend them."

If only the rest of the book lived up to its first few pages.
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