Title: Norwegian Wood.
Writer(s): Haruki Murakami.
Translator(s): Jay Rubin.
Release Date: August 2015 (originally published on September 4th, 1987).
My Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆.
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.
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.
Thank you to my beloved partner in crime Caroline for gifting me this copy for Christmas!
Based on the novel of the same name, a Japanese movie adaptation was released in Japan on December 11th, 2010.