19 August 2009

Review: NORWEGIAN WOOD by Haruki Murakami ****

"Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.
A poignant story of one college student's romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man's first, hopeless, and heroic love."


I've been hearing great things about this novel for years but I didn't really see myself reading it as I thought it just wasn't my cup of tea - I mean, I tend to read mostly US/UK female fiction with female characters, but this novel was written by a Japanese man; it takes place in the late sixties in Japan and features a male narrator = as far from my type of reading as you can get. But then I got my hands on a copy of this novel and I started reading it out of pure curiosity and all of a sudden I found myself turning the pages; somehow I was sucked in and couldn't stop reading! So I bought myself a copy of the book and finished it at home, where I again couldn't put it down. That doesn't mean that the story itself was incredibly gripping, it's just that it was so well written that the pages just flew by.

It's been a while since I've read a novel from a male point of view so reading Norwegian Wood was certainly different to what I'm used to. I found Toru, the central character, quite passive and his narrative was too emotionless to my liking, but it still captured the poignancy of the whole story quite well so I really couldn't dislike it too much. Looking back, maybe the narrative voice was quite fitting, hmm ...

Speaking of the narrator, I can't say I found him particularly dreamy or anything, he just lacked something, but I certainly thought he was a rather interesting character, even though I couldn't relate to him (not too surprising, but luckily I don't have to relate to things to appreciate them).
I liked how the two leading female characters were so different and I thought they really brought the story to life. Naoko was facinating because she was so damaged and mysterious and introvert; you couldn't help but feel sort of sorry for her and for how things turned out for her (I must admit I was hoping her final move wouldn't happen). I enjoyed reading about her relationship with Toru, they really had something special going on.
On the other hand, I really enjoyed scenes with Midori, who was probably my favourite character in the novel. Unlike Naoko, she was extrovert and outrageous and crazy (in a good way) and fun and independent; she always came up with the most wtf statements ever and I loved it! I thought she really added some spark to this otherwise quite melancholy novel.

The plot itself wasn't too exciting - just a man in his late thirties reminiscing about his student days, but goodness knows the story was worth telling as those were some memorable times, which obviously really affected the narrator's life. Furthermore, the story was exceptionally well told (some relatable quotes too) and even though the plot summary may seem kind of boring, reading the story certainly wasn't as there were several quite shocking moments.

On the whole, I liked this novel far more than I ever imagined I would. It was really refreshing since it's so different from what I usually read and I'm glad I've finally read it - better late than never, huh. ;) Oh and everyone and their monkey probably knows that the inspiration for the novel title was the song by The Beatles? Well, I've heard of it too, but never actually listened to the song (don't hate, I'm just not a fan) until it was mentioned in the novel and who woulda thunk it, it's actually a really great and cute acoustic song (have had it on replay for a day or two now)! Wahey, you learn something new every day! :)

overall rating: 4/5
plot: 3/5 | writing: 5/5 | characters: 5/5 | cover: 3/5


Rebekka said...

Hi there :) I just wanna let you know that I got soooo inspired with your blog that 2 friends and me decided: We just NEED something like that in Germany and in German too, so... here we go :)
http://www.buchstabenzauber.de - that's our lovely new little site. I'm afraid you won't understand it (or do you speak any German?) but I wanted to let you know anyway because I'm just so proud of our little site hehe.

Take care!

bookalicious said...

Aww, what a gorgeous site! Ooh and I recognize that background! ;) Have you designed it yourself??
Well, ich spreche ein bischen Deutsch, aber nicht enough to verstehe dein Blog. :p I hope that made any sense - I learned Deutsch for three years, but have barely used it in real life so now my knowledge of it is quite shabby sadly. Nonetheless, thanks for the link - I'll add it to my sidebar and keep checking what you've been reading! :)

Rebekka said...

Thank you, that means a lot to me... to us that you like the site :)
No, we didn't design the background... my girls found it somewhere and worked with it, but we gave credit of course :)
It did make sense, very well done :) But I know what you mean. I learnt Latin in school and as this is a dead language I already forgot so much. Englisch is way better.
Thanks for adding us to your sitebar. We also added you under "Links". But just one hint: It's called BuchstabenzaUber, with a U. You missed the U :)

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