Fiction Review – Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

On the lookout for different and interesting authors, I was suggested Haruki Murakami. “He’s one of the biggest sellers in the world”, my suggestee said to me. At first I was unsure… I’m always wary of overly-popular things. But, in the end, I thought “why not” and firstly bought The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I adored it completely and was pleased to find a second of Murakami’s novels was on my university reading list. So I went to find that; Norwegian Wood.

The differences between the two books are quite clear. Reading the translators notes from Norwegian Wood, I find that Murakami’s usual style is to dip into the supernatural, alike in The Wind-Up bird Chronicle. They said that Murakami saw it as a challenge to his writing, whereas his readers saw it as a step down. It is true that Norwegian Wood is more ‘tame’ in comparison. However, that still doesn’t depreciate from the charm. If it’s one thing that this book does have, its charm. Murakami has a strong talent in creating bold characters that, love them or hate them, create deep impressions. In this novel, the main character is probably the least alive, but surrounded by all of these oddballs, he becomes more interesting. I personally hated many of the characters because I felt their personalities clashed with mine. I feel that’s such a beautiful thing, to be able to understand and connect with a character so much you can feel your “personalities clash”. The characters are the drivers of the novel and definitely make it worth-while.

The plot runs as a slowly-paced romance novel, shown from the view of a 19/20 year old Toru Watanabe. It raises interesting topics, such as love, death and purity and Murakami shows no remorse for details. He is a writer I’m coming to see as unafraid. Expect some truly blunt dialogue and events along with many sex scenes when reading this one. With such open-ness, the book is full of surprises. Each theme explored is done so with such upfront force, it can’t help but make the book breathe.

My two issues would be the pacing and the ending. The pacing for me was a little slow. While the events were colourful, you were guided through them softly. Guided a little too softly at times. However, if you stick to it, it’s worth the effort. The ending, perhaps is a personal dislike. The last few pages hold something I think is too surprising and out of character. I can see how it possibly shows development of the character, but I’d be interested to hear others views on it. However, I’d definitely suggest one of  Murakami’s novels, as he is a beautiful writer.  Saying that, I’m more likely to suggest reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as an introduction to his work, before seeing the contrast with Norwegian Wood.

Rating: 8/10

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3 thoughts on “Fiction Review – Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

  1. I’ll admit I’ve been put off reading this book because of the size of it and my lack of interest in many other books I’ve been pointed to recently. However you have renewed my faith. I wish I could finish the book I’ve been reading quicker so that I can start this one! 🙂

  2. *CONTAINS SPOILERS*

    I re-read the ending in lieu of your comments about that section and I kind of see your point. I don’t think it’s particularly out of character for Toru, the way he shies away from Hatsumi’s questions in the restaurant scenes in addition to the load of casual sex he gets up to with all those unnamed girls leaves me feeling that he’s more sexual than he often lets on in the book. Reiko on the other hand, mmm I’m not so sure. Considering her reasons for entering the Sanatorium/Buddhist Meditative Retreat you’d think she wouldn’t want to have sex (especially with someone much younger than her) again. Then again she likes and trusts Watanabe a lot, not to mention flirts with him a few times. It’s also a parallel to Toru and Naoko’s sex scene earlier on in the book as in both cases the two lovers are using sex to try and deal with/make sense of the death of a mutual friend. After all sex is the symbolic (and occationally literal) opposite of death. So basically I disagree 😛 . The comparison of Reiko’s vagina to a “wrinkle” is pretty gross though. You might not want to read IQ84 ethier, considering that’s been nominated for the offical Literary Times Bad Sex Awards: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/nov/25/haruki-murakami-bad-sex-award.

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