Norwegian Wood - Haruki Murakami

I am a big Haruki Murakami fan and am slowly making my way through all of his novels. The latest novel I have read is Norwegian Wood and like all Murakami novels, it did not disappoint.

Genre: Fiction, Japanese, Romance
Year First Published: 1987
Publisher: Vintage
Rating: 4/5

When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire - to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past. 

Norwegian Wood may seem like a love story of the surface but it is so much more than that. This is a novel about loss, about the fragility of life, the fragility of the human mind and how our choices can affect others in heartbreaking ways.

Toru Watanabe is a university student struggling to get by in a world full civil unrest. He goes to classes, works a few nights a week at a record store and spends his Sundays doing his laundry. His life is full of order. That is until both Naoko and Midori enter his life. 

Naoko was the girlfriend of Toru's best friend from high school,  Kizuki. That was until Kizuki killed himself when he was 17. No one can understand what happened, or why he did such a thing. Toru and Naoko find themselves bound by grief and their link to Kizuki. They quickly become good friends and spend days together walking around Tokyo. 

Just as Toru feels that Naoko is the one, she disappears from his life and the city. He later finds out that she is suffering from Kizuki's death much more than he realised and is staying at a retreat in the forest to try and recuperate. He visit her on occassion and also enjoys the company of Reiko, her room mate. He promises to wait for Naoko to recover so they can then start their lives together. 

That is until Midori steps into the picture. Midori is the opposite of Naoko, who is frail and emotionally troubled. Midori is strong-willed, outgoing and just a little crazy. Midori has had her own share of heartbreak in her life, but handles it in a very different way to Naoko. She won't let life get her down. 

Soon Toru and Midori have formed a bond, not based on grief or loss, but on mutual respect and friendship. Now Toru must choose between Naoko, who he made a promise to, a woman whose mind is on the verge of collapse, and Midori, the woman who makes him happy. 

This novel is very different to the other Murakami novels I have read. It is more "mainstream", less a metaphysical exploration of ideas but more an exploration of humanity and the faults of human beings. Just because it is different, doesn't make it any less worthy. This novel still has Murakami's trademark style of asking questions and encouraging his readers to think outside the box. 

"If you only read the books everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking" - Nagasawa to Toru on why he reads classic literature over contemporary literature

I can see why this novel is Murakami's most popular. It is accessible by a wider audience than some of his other works. I quite enjoyed it. This novel took a good look at how different people deal with grief and heartbreak. Toru, Midori, Reiko and Naoko all dealt with things in their different ways (or didn't deal) so it was a good character study. It looks at how people can so easily go from living, breathing human beings to nothing more than a memory... 

"I went to the hospital to visit the father of a girl in one of my lectures and ate some cucumbers in his room. When he heard me crunching on them, he wanted some too, and he ate his with the same crunching sound. Five days later, though, he died. I still have a vivid memory of the tiny crunching he made when he chewed his pieces of cucumber. People leave strange, little memories of themselves behind when they die." - Toru in a letter to Naoko.

I would recommend this book to anyone who isn't sure about Murakami but wants to give him a go. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is also a good place to start. It was the first Murakami I read and since then I have been hooked!
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