Sunday, January 11, 2009

book review - Norwegian Wood

This was the last book I managed to squeeze in last year and as a result it ends this marathon run of reviews.

Haruki Murakami is one of those authors that occasionally flits across the radar screen because he is still alive and producing novels and as a result pops up as a topic for discussion on literary review shows. So as a result you know of him before you pick a book up but it was still unknown territory reading Norwegian Wood.

If you were to boil it down to themes it would include loneliness, despair, suicide and would be in there. But that would leave you with the impression that this is about

This book is reasonably old and has the feeling of being even older as it is set in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It follows the progress of Toru Wantabe who is a student who moves to Tokyo after his best friend commits suicide at the age of 17. Toru falls in love with his dead friend’s girlfriend Naoko but she is always slightly out of his grasp.

After they make love she disappears into a sanatorium and then slowly disappears from mainstream life and finally fails to stop her problems from over coming her.

In between that process Toru, who remains in college getting on with a lonely but relatively regulated life, meets Midori who is complex and challenging but the opposite from Naoko. He seems to face a choice between the two women who become the past and the future.

Part of that decision is taken out of his hands when Naoko takes a decision to disappear forever but he still cannot bring himself to embrace the future. For a while he is also in the balance and he could have easily followed his friends and taken the suicide option but he comes back to life and chooses to live and ultimately whether or not it involves Midori it is on his own terms he opts to live.

The character of Toru is a lonely but admirably determined student who is wiser than his years and as a result of having death introduced into his life at a young age has an inner strength. But he cannot live alone and the women in his life remind him of his need not so much for sexual satisfaction, he gets that from one night stands.

He requires relationships that involve love not so he can receive it but more importantly so he can give it. There is a yearning from him to be able to give love and that also comes through.

In some moments of the book it felt like a poor attempt at an erotic romance but there is a story that you stick with that is slightly autobiographical no doubt. You can only conclude that the reason it spoke to so many people is because it described the way they felt.

Choosing to live is as hard if not harder than choosing to die and that is the message that after the memories of the exact details fade will be what you take forward from this novel.

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