Norwegian wood is, celebrated Japanese Novelist, Haruki Murakami’s 4th Novel. Published in 1987, this novel went on to become a best seller. In fact, Norwegian wood is one of his most successful novels [apparently much to the dismay of the writer] although he does not consider this as one of his best works, but more of that later.
The title of the novel is inspired by the famous Beatles song of the same name. It is primarily a love story, a love triangle rather. The novel is narrated in flashback as Toru Watanabe is reminded of Naoko when he hears her favourite song [Norwegian Wood] aboard a plane to Germany. Toru and Kizuki are best friends. Naoko is Kizuki’s girlfriend and the three of them hang out together. The sudden suicide of Kizuki affects both Toru and Naoko deeply. They find solace in each other’s company and Toru finds himself falling in love with Naoko. Naoko on the other hand struggles to come to terms with Kizuki’s death and fails to reciprocate his love. When they end up sleeping with each other on her birthday, she is unable to deal with the guilt and leaves Toru. Toru however is not able to let go of Naoko and lives with the hope of getting back together with her. As both of them go through the mental trauma, Naoko ends up in a psychiatric facility while Toru comes across Midori, a fellow student, who is the exact opposite of Naoko. While Naoko is beautiful, serene and fragile, Midori is feisty, loud and strong willed. Toru is drawn towards Midori but feels guilty of betraying Naoko. The story ends with Toru realizing his true love, but the author leaves us guessing if he reunites with his love or not.
This was my first Murakami novel, who apparently is known for his Kafkaesque writings, so I must say, I was a tad bit disappointed with the book. It’s a sensitive story no doubt and the author tries to delve deep into themes of loneliness, longing, depression and suicide however I found it a bit too simplistic in parts and a little stretched.
What I loved about the book however was the narration. Although he uses simple language, his writing is quite magical; it is almost like you are under a spell. While he leaves you with a lot of questions, as to why do the characters behave in a certain way, at some level you end up empathizing with them because he conveys their emotions so well. For example, there is a particular chapter, where Toru receives a letter from Naoko and says that he read the letter many times, I found myself reading that letter more than once too.
Do I recommend this book? Well, I am not sure. If you have read Murakami, I don’t think you would want to read this [basis my initial thoughts on Kafka on the shore] and in case you haven’t maybe you should begin with a true blue Murakami novel at the risk of loving or hating him.