Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

READ FOR BOOKCLUB

Chosen by Jo

A romantic, 1960s coming-of-age story recaptures a young man’s first, hopeless, and heroic love.

✚ “Norwegian Wood is the book that made Haruki Murakami famous. Which some would say is surprising considering it is a move away from his magical realism tendencies and into a more realistic genre. However on closer inspection, much of what makes a book Murakamiesque is still apparent.

“In the book a young Japanese man Toru Watanabe hears the Beatles song Norwegian Wood and recalls a time of his life spent with several interesting characters, in particular a troubled girlfriend.

“Toru and several of his friends have experiences with death and grief and one such acquaintence ends up in a mental institution located deep in the snowy woods. This examination of loss, particularly suicide, does not attempt to scare the reader into flinching at mention of the D word, but rather, reminds us that death is not the opposite to life, it is a part of life.

“It is said that the popularity of this ’80s book amongst young adults was its because of its insights into death, loss and grief, something that at the time was lacking from youth culture. And it certainly does provide death with a normality, so that the death of a character is not the shocking plot reveal that it would be in many novels.

Despite your best efforts, people are going to be hurt when it’s time for them to be hurt.

“The copious references to sex and its inferences are notable. Our discussions on this aspect gravitated around a number of factors. One of which was love transcends sex. And that sex can be enjoyed without emotional buy-in. Which was a refreshing take on the subject. However we did question the representation of female characters. They were often weak and fallible with a damsel-in-distress demeanour, requiring saving by men. Plus also there is an acknowledgement that sometimes women are taken advantage of, with one particularly disturbing scene.

“We also saw some of the sex as an energy, a life force that needs to be shared between someone full of vitality and a partner on the verge of giving up. It is a necessity rather than gratuitous.

“All in all it is a book that is never dull, with multiple stories within stories to really bring the characters to life. It was one that was enjoyed by all the free rangers.”

——
Published 1987
Kodansha
296 pages

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