After reading his globally acclaimed ‘Kafka On The Shore’ and his Victorian-like effort on ‘1Q84’, ‘Norwegian Wood’ is the third Haruki Murakami’s novel I finished. But unlike those two previously mentioned surrealistic-themed works, the tone of ‘Norwegian Wood’ is rather a bit more ‘realistic’ with no talking cats or portals to other parallel dimensions are involved in the plot. I’m using quote-unquote on ‘realistic’ because I found his prose on this work still contains some unexplained realities or dream-like events as well as metaphors which are undoubtedly one of Murakami’s signatures.
‘Norwegian Wood’ introduces us the main character, Toru Watanabe, a 37-years old grown man who suddenly remembers his past when an orchestral cover of The Beatles’ beautiful song Norwegian Wood aired in an airport during his arrival to Germany.
“Once the plane was on the ground, soft music began to flow from the ceiling speakers: a sweet orchestral cover version of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood.” The melody never failed to send a shudder through me, but this time it hit me harder than ever.” p.1 (Vintage, 2011)
The story then turns to twenty years earlier, when Toru was still an introvert university student and his complex and rather absurd love story with Naoko, a girlfriend of his passed-friend Kizuki, the girl who adores the song. The plot moves along as their relationship intensifies, but suddenly Naoko suffers a breakdown and move to a sanatorium where she get a mental treatment.
As Toru tries to figure out what is exactly happened to Naoko and their difficult relationship, he encounters an eccentric young woman named Midori Kobayashi which later he finds that she is actually his colleague at the university. His loneliness and emptiness are begin to filled by various activities with Midori, from visiting Midori’s family home and bookstore, cooking lunch together, and even taking care of Midori’s father at a neighborhood hospital. But if I analyzes the dialogues shared between them, I personally think that there are no special feeling between them but rather a mutual feeling of comfort and close friendship.
Days and months have passed and Toru begin to realize that he must make a decision what path should he follow towards his future life. Similar to his other works that I’ve read, this book also ends with an unclear ending which is opened for readers interpretation, which I found intriguing yet also depressing for those who prefers a wrap-up ending.
In his previous works (at least the two that I finished reading), Murakami mostly focus on the exploration of the characters’ feeling and mental state towards a turning incidents rather than the incident itself. This approach often creates a dark ambiance and depressing nuance which also become one of Murakamian characteristics. The similar nuance can also be experienced when reading this novel.
‘Norwegian Wood’ is a fictional work about a difficult love story, faithfulness, self-discovery, struggle to face reality, and how every incidents are basically connected and affecting each other. After reading this mesmerizing novel, I also began to think the significance of everyday activities and events to our lives, how our past shapes our present and future, how a seemingly insignificant point in our life may have a deep impact to our self, and how vulnerable humans are.
Although in several reviews I found that ‘Norwegian Wood’ was disappointing for those who adore Murakami’s metaphysical universe, but in my opinion, this novel is an interesting read and may be a perfect start for those who never read Murakami before but are curious enough to experience his writing. I crave for more of Murakami’s realism works after reading ‘Norwegian Wood’.
This review is a part of