Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

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Title: Norwegian Wood.
Writer(s): Haruki Murakami.
Translator(s): Jay Rubin.
Publisher: Vintage.
Format: Paperback.
Release Date: August 2015 (originally published on September 4th, 1987).
Pages: 296.
Genre(s): Fantasy.
ISBN13:  9780375704024.
My Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆.

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Have you ever felt like you were in limbo, unable to grasp reality, questioning yourself on the meaning of life and all of its surprises, from love to death? It isn’t a surprise to ruminate on these subjects and discover the inevitable singularity of our experiences. But through each of us, it is possible to identify a common thread, one that winds up defining us in our journey and leading us to a life filled with remarkable wisdom, a life with renewed purpose and yearning. Translated from Japanese to English by Jay Rubin, author Haruki Murakami wrote a story unexpectedly propelling him to superstardom in the Land of the Rising Sun as he explores the dark, twisted, and strange facets of love and loss in a young man.

What is Norwegian Wood about? 37-year-old Toru Watanabe is sent down memory lane upon hearing the classic Beatles’ song entitled “Norwegian Wood” and recounts a period in his life where love and loss mingled and mangled together. Set in Japan around the 1960s, a young Toru Watanabe feels at home beside his close friends Kizuki and Naoko until the former commits suicide and sends both of these two heartbroken soulmates to envelop one another in silent proximity as they comfort themselves in unexpected temptation for one another. Following their intimate night, Toru is off to his new campus adventure while Naoko disappears to a sanatorium, but his life is only just about to take another unexpected turn as he then meets the strange and eccentric young lady from his drama class, Midori Kobayashi, who drags him into an unshackled way of life imbued with uncertainty and erraticness.

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In a realistically atmospheric writing style, author Haruki Murakami invites readers to follow a young Toru Watanabe’s introspective journey of love and loss. Magically recounting his daily life through countless mundane and inconsequential activities, his story is grounded in sexuality while loosely tieing it to death by tackling the subject of suicide. Unprecedented, his depiction of sexuality challenges normative conceptions by modern societies and looks to question the basis of the concept by presenting several memorable characters in Toru Watanabe’s life who embrace different visions of sex, love, and marriage. While insightful, this exploration of sexuality remained predominant, almost overwhelming, throughout the narrative, making it harder to zero in on other key elements of the protagonist’s life that were to resonate with the reader.

Author Haruki Murakami’s bleak portrayal of normalcy through controversial behaviours is executed flawlessly, allowing him to deliver a serrated reality that isn’t always as beautiful as you’d hope life is, but ultimate leaves an ill-defined direction to Toru Watanabe’s journey—which might have actually been the intention all along. After all, the narrative also gravitates around the idea of dwelling in the past and holding onto ethereal memories while also trying to build a future that seems too foggy and intangible. On top of that, there’s no denying that his characters are far from being relatable, requiring the reader to connect with them on a whole other level. In fact, all of the characters were missing something within them and were drawn broken, once again denouncing society’s perception of normality. However, with a protagonist who continuously behaved oddly before the countless women he interacts with, especially with a twisted incomprehension of love, it was hard to sympathize with the obstacles he faces in this chapter of his life.

Norwegian Wood is a down-to-earth coming-of-age story revolving around sexuality and loss through self-discovery and nostalgia.


EXHIBITA

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Thank you to my beloved partner in crime Caroline for gifting me this copy for Christmas!

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Based on the novel of the same name, a Japanese movie adaptation was released in Japan on December 11th, 2010.

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27 comments

  • Strange to say, but I’ve never read anything by Murakami yet. Based on your review it doesn’t seem I lost much, but then I heard there are several good books by him; The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and The Wild Sheep Chase sound most promising. Still, it will take me some time before I actually get to any of them 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve only read Kafka on the Shore and this one to this day and there’s just something about the way he writes and how it has no filter that make me want to keep him on my TBR. I do hope your first experience with his work will prove to be positive. You’ll just have to pick wisely! 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  • I like to read a Murakami novel, from time to time. This might not be his best, but it’s decent enough, and short 😉 Movie felt a little flat, but the book I’d recommend 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I share the same exact opinion as you on Murakami’s books and this one. It’ll probably a while before I pick up another one but I do enjoy reading it here and then too. I’ll be checking out the movie at some point to see how they could’ve possibly adapted this book into a movie without cutting 90% of it out hahaha 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  • I have not read this particular novel by Murakami, but with 1Q84 and Kafka on the Shore under my belt, I think I’m all set. I know you mentioned in your review of Kafka that you’re interested in 1Q84 but with this, are you still interested?

    Liked by 1 person

  • I enjoyed the movie, though I’ve never read the book. I recall it as a rather sad and almost depressing movie that really fits your description of the book. The idea of dwelling in the past, the broken characters, some seemingly seeking something, others running away. It’s not a movie I would likely watch again, but I’m glad to have seen it. I don’t know if I would pick up the book, but I might very well seek out another story by the author. Great review, Lashaan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Todd! I heard that the movie barely skims over the content of the book at remains allegorical to some extent. I feel like it might be MUCH more accessible. I plan on checking it out at some point but I’m almost convinced that it can’t be the same beast as this book, there’s just so much oddness that would weirdly translate on the big screen. 😛 Hope your time with Haruki Murakami in the future will be worthwhile though!

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  • I was really excited to read your review Lashaan and it didn’t disappoint! 😊 the characters in Murakami’s novels are always hard to relate to, especially these ones! Have you seen the movie? I would be curious to know what you thought of it! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yes, the main protagonist here was beyond odd in his own way. Then again, it always remains fascinating to see how Haruki Murakami gives them so much authenticity through his writing. I haven’t seen the movie yet but I do hope to at some point. Something tells me it won’t be anything like the book though hahaha Thanks for reading, Juliette! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes exactly, sometimes I wonder if it’s not exactly the fact that pretty much everything in Murakami’s books if a bit “off” that makes the stories fascinating! I’ll be curious to hear what you think of the movie. Personally I thought it was nothing like the book!

        Liked by 1 person

  • I’ve been looking forward to your review of this since you mentioned it in an earlier post! Doesn’t sound like it could live up to Kafka on the Shore. I seem to remember some people saying that this is a somewhat atypical Murakami. Not sure, I’ll read it. Nevertheless, I still have appetite for more Murakami, especially (for some strange reason) The Wild Sheep Chase, which is mean to be distinctively odd.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep. Kafka on the Shore remains the best of the two for me. It’s definitely not that comparable in the end though, since one was magical realism while the other is romance. I do hope that the next one I pick up by him will blow my mind one way or the other. Goodreads tells me that The Wild sheep Chase is the 3rd book of a series..? Do you think it can be read as a stand-alone or should it be read with book 1 first? I didn’t want to look up the blurbs out of fear of spoilers to even know if they were related to another or not hahaha Thank you for reading though! I appreciate it. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • As I understand it, the three books in Murakami’s The Rat series can be read independently of each other. Also, I think that the first two in the series are not in print anymore, so presumably most people only read the 3rd one.

        Liked by 1 person

  • Heck! I hate when the sex is so present that it leaves little to no room for anything else in the story!
    That’s not your week Lashaan!

    Liked by 1 person

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