In recent months, I’ve been reading some novels from Haruki Murakami. He’s a world renowned author whose literary works delve into heady surrealism and the alluring sphere of science fiction. Having read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore prior to reading Norwegian Wood, this novel did sort of catch me by surprise. Compared to the other two books, Norwegian Wood doesn’t have the ethereal and mind-screwy mysticism, but instead goes for a more contemporary approach. With that being said, I still found this book to be a very enticing read.
The story of Norwegian Wood center around a man in his 30’s named Toru Watanabe, who’s also the narrator as well. He introspectively reminisces about his time as a college student back in 1960’s Tokyo, and bearing a deep feeling of love and affection towards Naoko, who was once the girlfriend of his best friend, Kizuki. When Kizuki took his own life at the young age of 17, it left a dark and inconsolable void for both Toru and Naoko as individuals; it’s as if a part of their souls were ripped apart when Kizuki was no longer with them anymore. This book explores how the emotional pain of loss is something that can unfortunately wreak havoc on someone’s outlook and worldview. It’s also something that is constantly on our minds because while the person may be gone, the memories that were shared with him or her may last a lifetime.
As a couple of years pass by, Naoko is still immensely heartbroken and sadly living in a state of crippling depression with constant thoughts of suicide as well. While Toru still cares about Naoko deeply, even as her mental health and stability begins to deteriorate, he starts developing feelings of attachment and intimacy towards another woman that comes into his life, Midori. She’s basically the polar opposite of Naoko. Midori is vivacious and bursting with energy, while Naoko is more reserved and exudes an air of pervading melancholy. As his burgeoning love for Midori continues to flourish, Toru comes to the stark realization that he can’t have both of them in his life.
Norwegian Wood does have quite a bit of evocative and graphic descriptions with regards to sex, but I thought it was conveyed in a pretty eloquent manner and not for the sake of shock value. In a lot of stories, (both in books and movies) sex is often romanticized as fun and pleasurable. But in this novel, it is usually depicted with a circumambient feeling of regret, trepidation, and uncertainty towards what the future may hold. I viewed these moments to be very tormentous and poignant because I do sometimes wonder where I’m going with my life at times.
All in all, Norwegian Wood is an enrapturing tale that explores the turbulent feeling of grief, despair, and the conflicting emotions that might arise when loving others. I found Norwegian Wood to be a very captivating novel. While it doesn’t have the magically surreal and otherworldly elements like some of the other works from Murakami, it is still a very beautiful and mentally engrossing experience from beginning to end.