Thursday, April 14, 2011

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Title/Author: Norwegian Wood/Haruki Murakami (Translated by Jay Rubin)
Publisher: Vintage Books USA
Pages: 400
ISBN 13: 9780099554561

Expect no flying elephants, man-eating cats, or any of those surrealist eccentricities that you’d normally find in a Murakami novel. Norwegian Wood is a rather straight forward, coming of age novel of nostalgia. What stayed though is its quiet, still and melancholy tone (which I love). I don’t know why but I always find it hard to summarise and/or review Murakami’s novels. This would be my very first attempt. So here goes.

In a nutshell
Norwegian Wood is about Toru Watanabe and his love affair with beautiful, damsel-in-distress Naoko, whom he’s known since school, and who used to go out with his best friend Kizuki, until he committed suicide. Their relationship deepens when they spent more time with each other after Kizuki’s death, and it somehow affected Naoko who realises she has psychological problems that need to be addressed. So she left for the sanatorium. This is when Toru becomes close to Midori, a vivacious girl, who gradually develops feelings for him which were reciprocated. Then enters Reiko, Naoko’s partner at the sanatorium, into this already-complicated love triangle, who also grows fond of Toru.

What I liked (so much) about it
Set in the 60’s, this story is just like any other romance novels or any typical Japanese/Korean love series – boy loves girl, girl loves boy but finds it hard to commit, another girl loves the boy but the boy couldn’t let go of his first true love; the whole works. But what makes Norwegian Wood stand out is its depth and intensity of its main characters and conversations – the way he/his translator uses words to describe the internal conflicts and complexities is just so brilliant.

Let me give an example. This is a conversation between Midori and Toru.
“Hey, what is it with you? Why are you so spaced out? You still haven't answered me.”

“I probably still haven't completely adapted to the world,” I said after giving it some thought. “I don't know, I feel like this isn't the real world. The people, the scene: they just don't seem real to me.”

Midori rested an elbow on the bar and looked at me. “There was something like that in a Jim Morrison song, I'm pretty sure.”

“People are strange when you're a stranger.”


Amazing isn’t it, that he could describe such feelings with such exactness? It’s those thoughts that usually swim in our head but never really know how to put it into words, and here we have Murakami, magically uses it to tell the story! I don’t know how he does it! Does he write in his sleep, letting his subconscious mind rule the writing and thinking??

And his characters, as usual, are intriguing. Toru is the epitome of a walking paradox I must say. He’s seen as a loner, but feels utterly uneasy when he couldn’t be with or get in touch with Naoko, Midori and Reiko. He wrote so much to them that ‘it was as if I were writing letters to hold together the pieces of his crumbling life.’ He’s reserved yet very casual with sex (Oh by the way, sex is described very explicitly here), kind yet harsh in dealing with his emotions and himself, taking everything too seriously, maybe he's a little too self-indulgent. If I were to describe him in a sentence, I’d say Toru is a dead who’s living among the living,...maybe because he wants to stay 17 forever, because as he said it, ‘Only the dead stay seventeen forever’. (Kizuki died when he was seventeen.)

I guess it’s this mystery, this ‘vagueness’ of Toru’s character that attracts women to him. Or maybe he just has that special connection with people, because even Kizuki and Nagasawa are very fond of him.

He has that effect on me too. Not that I liked his character, but I was ‘drawn’ to him. I feel like I can connect with him in so many levels, but at times he seems so locked up in his own world; so unwilling to open up. Unlike Naoro, who wants to let herself go but just couldn’t; Toru lets himself stay in his ‘shell’ and seems to be comfortable with it. I could empathise with Midori – her frustration of trying to get him out of his ‘shell’, and at the same time loving him for who he is. It’s really not that easy to love someone, don’t you think? After all, love is quite a funny thing. It’s incomprehensible.

Midori is my favourite character – strong, confident, not afraid of being different, humorous (in her own way), spontaneous and outspoken. She even asks the most unexpected questions like, ‘I wonder what ants do on rainy days?’ And she’s so full of love! She gives her dad the care and attention he needed when he was bed-ridden.

I don’t know how Murakami (or his translator) does it, but each time I read a Murakami novel, I’m left ‘wow-ed’. When I put the book aside, I just want to dream about it and let the post-reading feeling linger till I’m ready to move on…

So what’s the ending? I won't tell. You gotta read it to find out. Google it if you want, but you won’t be able to find a definite answer.

Some of my favourite quotes
[...] even if we hadn't met that day, my life might not have been any different. We had met that day because we were supposed to meet. If we hadn't met then and there, we would have just met somewhere else sometime. - Toru Watanabe

"If you think about it, an unfair society is a society that makes it possible for you to exploit your abilities to the limit." - Nagasawa

"What makes us most normal," said Reiko, "is knowing that we're not normal."

"By living our lives, we nurture death. True as this might be, it was only one of the truths we had to learn. What I learned from Naoko’s death was this: no truth can cure the sorrow we feel from losing a loved one. No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see it through to the end and learn something from it, but what we learn will be no help in facing the next sorrow that comes to us without warning."


And there are so many conversations which I truly love, but too long to put it up here...You just gotta read this and you'd know what I mean :)

My verdict? Love love love! (no pun intended) Highly recommended.

If you wanna watch the movie, it's here (separated into several parts) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6m0ylU7yNw&feature=related

PLEEEEASE read the book first before you watch the film, or else you'd be so turned off by the film you won't wanna read the book! Don't say I didn't warn you! :)

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