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4.1 out of 5 stars
Norwegian Wood
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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on 10 April 2011
This is the second novel by Haruki Murakami I have read, I moderately enjoyed the first one when I read it a few years ago and it was really the reviews written by other people which drew me to read Norwegian Wood. I found this novel incredibly easy to read, it flowed and made me want to read more but it also made me feel really melancholy. It made me think about my own life quite a lot during the reading of it and afterwards. Strange, when I think how different the world portrayed in the book (I found it highly immersive) seems from my world and how different the people seem from the people I have known. Others may have different feelings about Norwegian Wood but to me it is most heavy with death, there is a fair bit of sex and love and loneliness too but death overrides them all.

The main character Watanabe has little purpose in life, he has many good intentions but his actions are often seen as futile during the course of the novel and when he does have impact on the lives of others he seems quite unaware of it until they spell it out very clearly to him. I find it very easy to relate to him, even when I am reading and thinking 'this is a mistake' or 'you need to...' I just feel very empathetic towards him. I do not dislike any of the characters, I especially like Reiko, despite the fact her life has been a complete mess. Nobody is truly happy in Norwegian Wood but I think the genius of it is the moments when there is happiness, just in the simple things of life, food, music, companionship, work. That felt very true.

The reason I didn't give 5 stars to this novel was entirely personal, I can never fully enjoy anything quite so sad as this. There were also a few lulls in the book when I found it a little hard to stay interested, it definitely will not appeal to anyone who cannot appreciate a slow pace. The positive points of Norwegian Wood are the distinct characters with their frailties and susceptibilities and joys, the nostalgia - I truly felt transported to another time and place, the honesty even when it hurts.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 13 November 2012
I was curious to read Murakami and I thought Norwegian Wood, as the book that made Murakami famous on a global scale, would be a good place to start. However, I am not so sure that was a good idea. The translator's note at the back points out that on publication many Murakami readers were disappointed believing that it was a simple love story, the sort of writing Murakami sought to distance himself from when he began publishing. For myself I cannot say I thought it was much of a love story as I couldn't determine if the love element was supposed to be between Toru and Nanoko or Toru and Midori or Toro and Nanoko & Midori (i.e. he loved them both). I thought the book was more akin to existentialist novels such as those of Camus, given the introspection of the lead character Toru Watanabe and his awkward relationship with the world and the people who inhabit it. On that subject, I noticed different ways of connecting to the world are explored by different characters, for example, Toru's friend Nagasawa who is aloof and detached from the world, caring only for his own sense of mastery over the world he inhabits, by perfecting himself through his own work and his belief in his own system. This view of engaging with the world by attempting to master it and yourself is ultimately rejected by Toru who finds that despite his detachment from other people he in fact finds greater solace in other people than he might expect. The translators note also emphasises that the novel has many of the stylistic motifs that can be found in earlier Murakami books, this point was to emphasise that Norwegian Wood was not such a radical departure from earlier writing but as it was my first book I know that I would not be able to appreciate these motifs until I read some more. This made me think that it might have been a better choice to begin reading Murakami with an earlier novel.

One thing to mention about the story itself is that many of the characters have lost someone to suicide or illness and this gives a very sad, and I might even say nasty, quality to the story, given the closeness of those who commit suicide to the main characters. Saying that, I would still say that Norwegian Wood was a very good and enjoyable read, the prose flows effortlessly and I was pulled into the story and enjoyed it immensely. I would very happily recommend Norwegian Wood to anyone who likes an engaging read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 20 December 2011
It starts as a process of reminiscing a love that was gone, which comes into mind when hearing Norwegian Wood play in the background.

Toru, now an adult, moves the reader through his odd relationship with Naoko, a fragile girl he falls in love with. Their relationship has a sad history, since they knew each-other through Naoko's boyfriend, who committed suicide at 17.

The book is actually full of references to characters who had committed suicide, leaving the reader with an intense sense of sadness and loss, but there is something beautiful about the way in which Murakami manages to guide the reader out of that existential despair and towards hope, new beginnings and the possibility of life after the death of others.

Descriptions of Japanese student halls, taking the subway in Tokyo, visiting Naoko in a modern type of mental institution, secluded in the mountains, all these make the novel a source of new experiences for the Western reader (such as myself), but the feelings depicted are universal, despite their Japanese context, and that is what struck me the most about it: how all those situations, relationship shifts and personal doubts could be applied to people that I know and to my personal history as well.

Beautifully sad, painfully joyous!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2012
This author is a recent discovery, but I have already read and enjoyed three of his novels. The characters build slowly but are really well developed during the course of the book. A very 'readable' style. I enjoy the Japanese setting, although it is a country I have never visited. I found there was less of a plot than 1Q84 but it looks more deeply at characters motivations and feelings. It tells of a young man's transition from adolescence to adulthood. I look forward to reading more of Murakami's work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 December 2014
A brief summary of “Norwegian Wood” could easily make it sound like just another coming of age romance novel but it is far from it. Granted, it spans the life of the key character, Watanabe during the transition from late teens to University and the entanglements of his love life over that period, but there is far more underlying this.

Murakami’s written style (assuming the English translation is a close representation of the Japanese) is extremely simple, even stark in places, as is the pattern of the narrative which is largely linear with few twists and turns. Circumstances meant that I needed to read this novel over a very protracted period but I never found myself needing to re-read sections or losing the thread. At the same time, the characters, and the issues are complex and quite dark.

Similarly, while novels that I’ve read in the past set in Japan, focused on traditions and history, much of Norwegian Wood could take place almost anywhere, but at the same time, there are other sections that highlight the sense of place and certain Japanese peculiarities and cultural phenomena.

While initially I found the unadorned style refreshing, as the novel progressed, while I didn’t become bored and was still intrigued to know what happened, I began to long for a more descriptive, literary style. I also found that, while interesting, I felt no real warmth from the characters and could not connect with them as I might have liked, despite the sentiments that were evident.

I would certainly consider reading another Murakami book as I appreciated the difference from what I might normally choose and his skill in maintaining the simple style whilst conveying a sense of tension and emotional intensity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 June 2011
Norweigan Wood was the first novel by Haruki Murakami i had the pleasure to read. I received it as a gift after hearing some good things about the author from some close relatives. I did not expect much going in, but what i got was something truly special that thoroughly and deeply touched me in a way few novels manage to do.

I have tried again and again to explain what makes Murakami's writing style unique without much success. He manages to catch your attention and keep you hooked from start to finish even at moments where there really is nothing major going on. There wasn't a single moment in my reading of Norweigan Wood where i felt bored or that the novel dragged on. I simply could not put the book down and when I did, I simply could not wait to get back into it.

Saying that Norweigan Wood is a romance novel is selling it quite short. Sure that is essentially the foundation, but for those of you that just dread that word this is not an ordinary romance novel. It is not a simple tale of 'boy meets girl and lives happily ever after'-scenario. Murakami portrays a love that is sprinkled with obstacles and tragedy, it is rough and painful both physically and mentally. It explores a wide arrange of themes, such as death and impotence, mental illness and the hardship of growing up.

I implore you to at least try it. I am sure that you will find something to like even if you do not completely fall in love with it as I did. I know not of a single person that disliked the book once they read it. I cant express myself to say exactly why you should read it, I just know the way it affected me is something few novels manage to do.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 23 September 2013
I had previously read `A Wild Sheep Chase' by Haruki Murakami and found it one of the most original books I had read in a long time. So after reading the reviews of `Norwegian Wood' and seeing that it is his most popular novel I immediately placed it on my reading list. I must say that I did find this book a little disappointing. The story line was not as imaginative as I expected and I found there were whole sections which were drawn out with far too much detail. It's my view that the book would have been better had it had forty to fifty pages edited out. However, that said, the translation was excellent and the main characters and the interplay between them was convincing. It also has to be said that this is a novel concerning a young student coming of age and his relationships between two girls, Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend and Midori, an interesting young woman who is introduced later in the novel: In view of this readers in the age group between seventeen and thirty may be able to relate to the book a little better than someone who's age far exceeds thirty years old.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 8 October 2011
There are few living writers I admire, but Murakami is one of them. I think he is hugely skilled author with a unique voice, something sadly lacking in so much modern literary fiction (for want of a better term). Prior to reading Norwegian Wood I had only read Sputnik Sweetheart, but was amazed and enthralled by his story-telling abilities and literary style. I really do believe, from what I've read, that he is one of the few truly talented writers living today. Norwegian Wood, however, was really disappointing. It started, I thought, really well, with great tone, understated atmosphere and insightful writing, but after the first sixty pages or so, just seemed to drag. A good example is his description of his first visit to the hostel/sanatorium to see Naoko. This begins with his journey there - and is a tediously long description lasting pages, with no point at all to what he is writing. It wasn't even that well written. I think that the novel could have done with serious editing to reduce its length, because so much of it consists of pointless descriptive passages, sometimes tipping over into such grinding tedium that I struggled to read them. I am not saying that each and every word or sentence should move a plot forward. I am only saying that, for me, too much of it was boring.

I also thought that much of the dialogue did not ring true. It was as if the characterisation was hollow, with Midori's conversation, for example, feeling false and overly staged. Both the narrator's voice and her's were exactly the same.

Another reviewer here mentioned that this novel wasn't published in the UK until later in Murakami's literary career, despite being written reasonably early on. I suspect this is because the novel isn't anywhere near as good as some of his other novels, and was published on the back on this later success.

One thing I found in this novel is that while I like his straight-forward, almost conversational style, here it just seemed amateurish, and far from beautiful. The contrast with Sputnik Sweetheart is noticeable, with that novel being, for me, almost a masterpiece of understated story-telling. Whereas Norwegian Wood seemed to me basically uninteresting in its style and indeed in its pacing.

I have far from written-off Murakami, and will undoubtedly be reading more of him. I think South of the Border, West of the Sun is next on my list.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
I have lived in Japan for nearly a decade, during which time I have read dozens of books ON Japan but very little Japanese Literature. The main reason was that having encountered many incidents of shoddy translation I was waiting to read Japanese Literature in Japanese. Unknowing of this wish, my girlfriend kindly sent me this Vintage edition translated by Jay Rubin and as both a 'courtesy' to her and a way to understand her better I decided to give it a read. What I could not have imagined soon became crystal clear, firstly the translation is EXCELLENT, Rubin has done an outstanding job, and secondly, Murakami, as story teller of the first degree. Sure, this simple narrative is neither original or outstanding structurally, but it is in other numerous regards. Murakami's strength as a story-teller is his ability to suck you in and hold you there - front row seats all the way. As the plot unravels before your eyes you feel you know these characters he has drawn, that you know them far beyond the surface of which you have been told, that you know their inner core and their deepest hopes and fears. Because the writing is not unnecessarily uncomplicated, the pages just race by and this fluidity means you can finish this in three good sittings. All this leaves you feeling with a strange sense, of actually having know these characters - who could forget the lasting images of Storm-trooper, Midori et al., and in the end, a sense of loss when the final page comes around. All in all, an excellent novel and one worth reading whether you have an interest in Japan or not - actually that's an interesting disparity worth highlighting, the fact that people often read 'Asian' literature because they have an interest in Asia, but seldom read American Literature because the have an interest in America... Finally as an addendum, it should be pointed out that the late '60s backdrop that this is 'supposedly' set against, is no more than a piece of cloth hung from the ceiling to obscure the mess behind - this reads as absolute contemporary literature and with the exception of the odd 'Peace' or 'Right-on' it has no visible setting, nor leaves no particular after-taste.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 October 2011
This book was so sad. Poor Naoko, torturing herself in her own private hell. Poor Toru too, stuck in limbo, until he is forced to make a choice between two women, which was no choice at all. I thought Murakami was great at portraying loss and heartache. I especially liked the section where Toru takes a firefly to the roof and releases it. The scene setting was great too. The descriptions of the landscape made me want to visit the place. I was a little surprised 60s Japanese culture seemed so similar to western culture, musically at least. I was slightly surprised how sexually frank the book was. I was not so impressed with the dialogue though. Toru is supposed to be quite good at telling funny stories, but most of his reported conversation makes him sound quite boring, which made me wonder why Midore fell for him so much. I suppose he must have been a handsome devil.
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