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Norwegian Wood (thoughts)

February 25, 2007

I now realise that I’ve already read Murakami: I checked out his short story collection, The Elephant Vanishes, a few years ago. I didn’t really enjoy it, however, so I’m glad that I didn’t remember.

Because Norwegian Wood was an amazing experience. The plot is a little erratic; it follows the narrator’s experiences in his first and second year of college. More specifically, it follows his amourous experiences. While the plot is a bit loose, the strong characters keep the book together. I didn’t like the narrator that much, but the girls were fascinating. All of the characters are a bit ‘off,’ or kooky. In fact, at one point the narrator visits a girl who is living in a retreat for somewhat-insane people.

Murakami uses their kookiness to look at life, and what’s considered normal. He doesn’t smack you over the head with it, though. Instead, he quietly challenges societal norms. I think part of why I enjoyed the book is that I go to a liberal arts college. It’s a really small college, and it’s almost as full of kooky characters as the book. Especially considering that almost all of the characters are college-age, I just immediately connected with it.

There were only two things I wasn’t sure about it. First, the ending is really, really unsatisfying. I still think that this is one of the best books I’ve read this year, but I really wish Murakami would rewrite the ending. My other hesitation is more complicated. I read Murakami for part of my international reading challenge. And the book is set in Japan. But, it doesn’t really feel like it is. I didn’t learn that much about Japan from reading it. But, these are slight quibbles for a stunning book.

If you want a fun romp through young, complicated love that carries more profound undertones, you can’t do better than Norwegian Wood.

Favorites Passages

“How much do you love me?” Midori asked.
“Enough to melt all the tigers in the world to butter.” (265)
“There’s no need to raise your voice here. You don’t have to convince anybody of anything, and you don’t have to attract anyone’s attention.” (106)As she had said in her letter, she looked healthier than before, suntanned, her body firmed up from exercise and outdoor work. Her eyes were the same deep, clear pools they had always been, and her small lips still trembled shyly, but overall her beauty had begun to change to that of a mature woman. Almost gone now was the sharp edge-the chilling sharpness of a thin blade-that could be glimpsed in the shadows of her beauty, in the place of which there hovered now a uniquely soothing, quiet calm….I felt as drawn to her as ever, perhaps more than before, but the thought of what she had lost in the meantime also gave me cause for regret. Never again would she have that self-centered beauty that sems to take its own, independent course in adolescent girls and no one else. (109)

“Hey, Watanbe, are you mad at me?”
“What for?”
“For not answering you, just to get even. Do you think I shouldn’t have done that? I mean, you apologized and all.”
“Yeah, but it was my fault to begin with. That’s just how it goes.”
“My sister says I shouldn’t have done it. That it was too unforgiving, too childish.”
“Yeah, but it made you feel better, didn’t it, getting even like that?”
“OK, then, that’s that.” (249)

One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    April 24, 2007 1:54 am

    Norwegian Wood is just amazing, isn’t it? I read this book like 20 times and it never stops moving me.
    As you said, this book doesn’t make you feel any Japanese atmosphere or something.
    Haruki is famous for his interests in American pop-culture and for writing about such things.
    For this reason, he’s been sort of left out from the mainstream of Japanese literary society, which he’s not bothered.
    When he was young, he used to write a novel in English and then translated into Japanese little by little… that might be one of the reasons.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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