Norwegian Wood Paperback – 17 May 2001
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When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire - to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past.See all Product description
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Through this the narrator implicitly, and at times explicitly, provides his own philosophy of happiness mostly centred around balancing companionship, isolation and purpose.
I found it striking how often the routine aspects of the narrator’s life would be explained in pages and pages of details, examining the minute detail and surprisingly complex emotional responses. And yet huge developments in plot would often be covered in a simple jarring unexpected sentence.
Unfortunately I felt it was a bit too long in the second half of the book, with the repetition of daily life and the author re-examining already explored themes. Overall though an enjoyable and very well written book; and an interesting reflection on the human condition.
It’s also interesting, that he disregards this book the most and also it’s not a typical Murakamiesque reading experience. Quite the contrary it’s very atypical for his style but a masterpiece either way.
There is humour along the way which helps to lift the mood of the story. Early on in the book, Watanabe describes his dormitory room, which he shares with a rather straight-laced male student, nicknamed Storm Trooper, and refers to his room-mate's choice in posters: 'We didn't even have pin-ups. No, we had a photo of a canal in Amsterdam.' Then there is Nagasawa (Watanabe's drinking buddy and the opposite of Storm Trooper), and his anecdote of the time he swallowed three huge slugs.
But most of the humour is provided by Midori, Watanabe's quirky, uninhibited and salacious friend. For example, during a hospital visit to see her sick father, the range of conversation between her and Watanabe includes the three cucumbers her sister has packed in a bag for their dad ('I mean, what's a patient supposed to do? Sit in bed chewing on raw cucumbers?'), to Midori's love of dirty movies. And boy, does she love them!
I want to mention a part in the story where Watanabe writes a letter to Naoko. He writes: '...in general I go on living with all the energy I can muster. Just as you take care of the birds and the fields every morning, every morning I wind my own spring.' The concept of winding one's own spring really resonated with me. It is such a brilliant way to describe that particular feeling of having to keep on getting on with life. I know I feel this way sometimes, and perhaps you do too.
The story will stay with me for a long time to come and I will definitely be seeking out the author's other books. However, if like me, you consider yourself to be an emotional sponge, someone who easily empathises with other people, absorbs their emotions and internalises them, you may want to choose your moment wisely before you sit down to read this book; sadness lies within.