Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Review: Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood
From Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami:
Open quote 

'The problem was that that kind of thing couldn't go on forever,' said Naoku. 'Such perfect little circles are impossible to maintain. Kizuki knew it, I knew it, and so did you. Am I right?' I nodded."

After the jump, my review.

Grade: B+

Norwegian Wood is a fictional memoir of a middle-aged Japanese man, Toru Watanabe. Hearing the Beatles' song playing on his plane landing at the Hamburg airport, he recalls the friendships and loves of his youth. Sadly, they consisted of an ever-evolving love triangle in which he was either the odd man out, or complications kept any two from fully committing to each other at the right time. Happy endings were scarce.

Haruki Murakami creates a large cast of unique characters. Norwegian Wood doesn't have a plot as much as a simple telling of the events in Watanabe's relationships with all of these characters. The dialog is often a little clunky, which may be the fault of the translation, but it might also reflect the straightforward approach to life by Watanabe and his circle of friends, who talk of love and sex with all the casual openness of discussing food or music.

Love triangles fill this story. The lead character, Watanabe, is an aimless student. Kizuki, Watanabe's high school friend, commits suicide suddenly and without warning. Kizuki's girlfriend and inevitably Watanabe's own true love, Naoku, has emotional problems of her own that prevent her from committing to Watanabe. Eventually she seeks professional help. Reiko, an middle-aged woman who mothers both Naoku and Watanabe, completes yet another triangle in these relationships, which creates its own complications. In yet another triangle, Watanabe's college classmate Midori is extroverted and impulsive and alternately demanding and understanding as Watanabe tries to sort out his feelings for Naoku. It all sounds melodramatic and maybe it is, but the characters are convincingly real and three-dimensional and uniquely drawn so that the whole comes across as completely compelling.

Norwegian Wood (1987) is my third Haruki Murakami novel, after 1Q84 (2009) and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1985). Each novel has its own genre and style and is satisfying in its own way. Murakami is not just churning out the same thing over and over. Norwegian Wood reminds me more of The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes or The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce than any of the other novels by Murakami that I've read. I can't wait to see what else Murakami can do.

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