BOOK REVIEW: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Monday, March 09, 2015 Rocío N. 0 Comments

I have a particularly odd method for choosing books I want to read – and the books I end up reading are more often than not just as odd.

I stumbled upon several of Haruki Murakami's novels whenever I'd pass by a display window of one of my favourite bookstores. Judging a book by its cover is something I find myself guilty of doing now and again, but there was something about Murakami's book covers that had me gravitating toward them. Of course, I was never pressed to buy these books, even if the summaries did interest me. There just weren't enough…how do you call them… "sparks".

Months passed and I saw these books constantly. Not only that but almost every day a Haruki Murakami quote would pop up on whatever website I'd stumble upon while browsing the internet. There's got to be something about these books, I thought to myself. Nevertheless, my doubt response triumphed each time. 

…That was until I became obsessed with the aesthetic of Japanese model Kiko Mizuhara. After endless nights of saving copious numbers of fashion editorials, I had found out she made her acting debut playing Midori in Tran Anh Hung's film adaptation of Norwegian Wood. 

Well, if those weren't enough signs that I should buy the book, then I don't know what were.

And so I did it. I bought the book.

And I read it.

And I fell in love with it.


photos: goodreads, randomhouse


Norwegian Wood follows young university student Toru Watanabe in the 1960s, who has grown close to the beautiful Naoko after the suicide of her boyfriend and his best friend Kizuki. Naoko is left shaken after the fact and disappears to a sanatorium in Kyoto without informing Toru, while he is left burdened with loneliness in Tokyo. As months pass without her, Toru starts to begin relationships with the people around him, including Midori, who turns out to be a character exactly opposite of his beloved Naoko.

Sometimes disturbing, and many times heartbreaking, Haruki Murakami writes with such a distinct style that the reader is instantly hooked to his words. Though at first, I wasn't very appreciative of the how the book was translated, I soon learned to love every flaw as it skillfully contributed to the personality of the narrator: something I believed underlined Toru's character in the simplest but most compelling of ways. Toru was, for me, easy yet simultaneously difficult to understand. His mind was a little messed up, as all of the other characters presented in the book. I like messed up; it keeps stories interesting. In fact, each character was so memorably messed up, that I felt some sort of connection to each of them, regardless of whether I liked them or not. 

Each chapter was written with the grandeur of discomfort and delight. They all had the capability of making you feel certain things while making you question those feelings at the same time. I read a review by Justin Coffin for Chicago Tribune that beautifully captured the essence behind the oddity of Murakami's writing, where Coffin stated: "Murakami has always been concerned with the strange, unfathomable darkness that he believes lies within all humans. We are caught in our little labyrinths, always blocked, but we are also windup toys, going through the motions of everyday life." Sure enough, the novel explores just that as isolation and loss seem to be recurring themes in the novel. Generally, throughout the book, Toru is torn between Midori and Naoko, who, in turn, personify life and death respectively. These motifs are further touched upon when Toru's experiences with his friends' unexplainable suicides draw back curtains for his outlook on mortality and existentialism. Murakami writes, "Death was not the opposite of life. It was already here, within my being, it had always been here, and no struggle would permit me to forget that.”







photo: restlessthings

Norwegian Wood is able to give the reader a sense of nostalgia. It opens with Toru at 37 sitting in an airport in Hamburg, who, once hearing the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood", is transported back to his time with his two loves, Naoko and Midori. (In my opinion, the title fits the book perfectly. Just have a listen to the song that so inspired it.) The novel was written with the aid of Murakami's highly saturated vision of a westernised Japan in the late sixties: his use of imagery to describe Toru's past is remarkably bold, and his language lucid. He pays an incredible amount of detail to each scene in the story by weaving in eloquent, dream-like depictions of his characters and settings. The way in which he paints his world is similar to that of a Renaissance artist: he makes sure to emphasise small symbols like Naoko's butterfly clips, and blends them seamlessly into a yellow-green mural of Toru's college memories.

The novel, for me, was an exploration of existential struggle in terms of loss and sexuality, and the exploration thereof was personal, yet very open. Still, it was very much centred on Toru's perspective and version of the plot, so much so that reading the book was unduly like stepping into the mind of his character. I felt as if I was being thrust into a world magnificently alien to me, and as I said before, I fell in love with it.

Of course, after mentioning Kiko Mizuhara in the beginning of this post, I can't go on without saying something about the film adaptation: I actually haven't seen it yet, though I do intend to. Many say that it's a mere summary of the book, but still, I can't stop myself from wanting to experience it sometime. I'll keep you posted.

Until then,

Rocío x

Learn more about the book here.
Learn more about the author here.
Read Justin Coffin's review here.
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