Let me start off by saying that this is a very depressing book, but one that really touched me more than I could have imagined. Apart from the fact that I happen to be a huge Beatles fan, and so was immediately attracted to the title of the book, you have a wonderfully respected writer, a very interesting storyline, and a great setting both in time and place for a story to occur.
This is my first Murakami book, and he did not fail to amaze and impress. It's not just the content, but the writing itself - and perhaps that has a lot to do with the translation as well, so kudos to the translator - which was absolutely mesmerizing. The descriptions, the emotions conveyed, the thoughts expressed so non-eloquently by the characters and yet very eloquently by the writer, the scenery, the simplicity of the telling of the story made it such a beautiful book to read.
Unlike many of the other readers and reviewers of this book, I did not finish it in a day and I actually found I had to put it down a lot. Not because I would get bored, or because I didn't like it. On the contrary, it was because of the intensity of the book that I needed breaks in between to let it all sink in before I could go on reading it. It is the kind of book that you need to really submerge yourself into, and take it slowly, so you can really relish and take pleasure in this experience, as well as prolong it.
Norwegian Wood has been likened to Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and I suppose I could understand the comparison and the resemblance between Holden Caufield and Toru Watanabe, whom the book revolves around.
Toru Watanabe is a student in Tokyo in the year 1969 (told you it was a great year), and the book portrays his relationship with Naoko - his dead best friend's girlfriend - Midori, Reiko, Nagasawa, Hatsumi and even Storm Trooper. The book opens with an adult Toru, having heard the song Norwegian Wood, going back in years to recall the events of that fateful time of his life where all these people meant one thing or another to him.
Murakami manages to catch your attention from the beginning, and only succeeds in holding it for the entirety of the book. Seemingly a love story of sorts, the book deals with so much more than just that, not shying from putting on display very deep emotional, human aspects for everyone to see. From loneliness, to friendship, to loss, death, impotence, adolescence, sex, humour and most importantly, hope - the book encompasses all of that and so much more. It is very real, and deals with very serious issues, one major running theme being suicide and death at a young age.
I will say this though, as depressing as this book is, it does try to inspire hope and positivity and moving on. One of the things I really loved is the symbolism involved where the characters are concerned. Naoko symbolizing death and impotency and tragedy is a complete contrast to Midori who symbolizes life and sex and hope and resilience, and we sit throughout the novel wondering whether Toru is going to choose life or death.
I cannot recommend this book enough, and I could go on analysing every aspect of it for days, and every reader comes out with their own perception and interpretation of it. This is a remarkable book, and should be put on everyone's must-read lists, in fact I completely agree with all those who said that Murakami really must rank among the world's greatest living novelists. It won't be my last for him, that's for sure.