Book Review: Norwegian Wood

Haruki Murakami is one of those authors i’d continually hear about and i somehow never got the chance to read his work, so when i finally came across Norwegian Wood i pounced on the opportunity to read it. It was worth the wait and lived up to all the Haruki praise i’d seen and read.

I didn’t know what to expect when i started reading it but i have to admit i was super excited to start. The book title, comes from a song of the same title by The Beatles, and after listening to the song it is apt- The Beatles in Norwegian Wood sang  “I once had a girl / or should I say / she once had me” the narrator ,Toru is similarly in a fix as to how he an explain his relationships. The book is an easy-flowing, chilled and mind-opening and so is the song.

The book starts off simply, with the narrator Toru Watanabe, who is now in his late thirties reminisces about his university days. He is on a plane and he starts by stating how hard it is to write about one’s intense memories. I think everyone can relate with this, i for one can, the whiff of a familiar scent or perfume, a song playing and transporting you to a time in the past. It is sometimes a good thing to vividly remember every single detail of your first date or the first time you got published but sometimes remembering painful memories leaves this bitter taste to one’s mouth and brings back memories we would somehow choose to part with and forget.

Toru takes the reader on a journey back to the late sixty’s where he is doing his first year of university, is nineteen and he further talks about a lover, a girl he had loved deeply and later lost. This girl is Naoko, his childhood best friend’s e girlfriend. their friendship is sown together by the loss they both share for Toru’s best friend Kizuku who committed suicide when they were seventeen. The friendship starts off with both parties somehow scared to embrace each other as the last time they had seen each other was at Kizuku’s funeral. They meet in Tokyo where they are both at college, Toru having opted for it as a way to escape his home in Kobe and the memories it came with.

The first few chapters talk about Naoko and Toru’s friendship and how hard it was for them to change it into a relationship. Naoko then checks herself into a sanatorium to deal with a few issues which stemmed from her sister and Kizuku’s suicides. Toru then meets Midori, a classmate in one of his classes. Midori is carefree and a free-spirit. Their friendship is an easy one, they go on dates and Midori cooks for Toru.

The other interesting characters in the book are Reiko, Naoko’s mentor and roommate in the sanatorium, who welcomes Toru when he goes to the mountains to visit Naoko. She was a musician older than both Toru and Naoko but she was somehow a character i didn’t understand ; she was always hanging around both Toru and Naoko. I think what confused me was how after Naoko dies (Also from suicide) she visits Toru. They end up sleeping together and i guess that just made me wonder what kind of closure both characters were trying to achieve.

There is also Nagasawa , Toru’s friend who is a rich, intelligent boy destined for greatness. He is older than Toru and very good with the ladies, he sometimes takes Toru along on his escapades.

Its not a happy cheerful book but i would still recommend it. Haruki examines the perils of mental health and suicide and the trickiness that is first relationships. I think its an excellent book what with all the ignored mental health issues that sometimes people go through and somehow are expected to ignore and move on with life.

The main themes are love, loss, suicide, depression and somehow finding a place in this world. It is a moving and simple story of love and friendships and growth, although the ending really fucked me up (excuse my expression) it is a touching book that doesn’t overwhelm the reader. I look forward to reading more of Haruki’s work. What Haruki Murakami books would you suggest?

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