Friday, November 23, 2012

Norwegian Wood

I am a huge fan of Haruki Murakami, who I find to be one of the most imaginative and creative authors out there.  The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is one of my top 10 all-time faves, and he's written several other excellent books including Kafka on the Shore, which I also love.  Norwegian Wood is apparently a book that everyone in Japan has read, with the disaffected protagonist Toru Watanabe drawing comparisons to Holden Caulfield. From the book's afterword, I got the sense that Murakami was both surprised and not too thrilled this is the book he became famous for.  And I would agree - while the book has merits, it's just not up to the standards of his other works.

The story begins as a flashback - middle-aged Toru recalls his youthful relationship with the beautiful Naoko, a woman who dated Toru's high school best friend before he killed himself.  Toru and Naoko began spending time together about a year later, initially bonding over their shared grief, and it blossomed into a much stronger relationship, one that they both seemed to believe was love. 

All was not well in Naoko's mind, though, and she committed herself to a very nontraditional sort of a mental institution.  Toru visited Naoko there, hoping to contribute the healing of her mind.  He did, however, simultaneously begin a relationship with his schoolmate Midori, a very different young woman from Naoko.

On the surface, Norwegian Wood seems like a coming-of-age love story with a level of social commentary.  Toru finds himself while discovering these women and understanding his relationships with them, all the while becoming disillusioned with political goings-on at the university.  There is more to the novel, though - Murakami's gift for dialogue shows itself from time to time, and there is the trademark reference to a well.  But I don't read Murakami for romance or coming-of-age; I read Murakami for truly creative and inspired and unique experiences.  I stand by this as a solid novel, but really, if you're interested in Murakami, start with Kafka or Bird Chronicle.

Next up: I'm still reading All the King's Men, which got interrupted when I forgot to bring it to Aurora.  So that'll be my next review.

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