Having thought this would be the mainstay of my blogging material, it is weird to think that my blog has been around for five months now, and this will be my first literary review. I guess what we end up writing about is sort of beyond our control and while I love doing my film, game, and occasional random article about what’s happening with me in my life, it’ has been bugging me that I haven’t done a review on a decent book yet. But now I’m breaking that trend and I’m finally reviewing a book, a book I had no intention of being the first book I reviewed, but what do you know, life changed what I would write about again.
So Norwegian Wood is the 1987 novel by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami which follows the life of Toru Watanabe as he makes his way through 1960s Japan as a student in Tokyo and, while all around him life seems full of conviction and fighting against the established order, Watanabe goes through life without any true sense of direction except for the two women in his life, who couldn’t be any more different if they tried, with the beautiful yet emotionally fragile Naoko and the greatly contrasting energetic and lively Midori Kobayashi.
So one thing that I took away from this book is that it’s full of sex. Seriously there’s no getting away from it, it’s full of sex references and complete description of sex scenes on multiple occasion. And that’s a good thing, obviously! The story is about the sexual awakening or sexual journey however you wish to phrase it, of Watanabe and of those around him and the sexual scenes provide moments of love, hope, loss and endless amounts of humour.
Murakami really knows his audience as, not only with “free love” being the slogan of the sixties, although it passes Watanabe by somewhat, it understands that this a story written about teenagers turning into adults with one of the things all teenagers somehow incessantly talk about is sex. But the fact that it’s so well written without being overtly vulgar and having a loving look at sex, as well as a humorous insight on things like masturbation and pornography, Norwegian Wood definitely scores on all counts in the sexual journey aspect of this novel.
The other side to this novel, the more complex and darker side to this is the theme of death. I don’t want to spoil anything, but suicide is really given its fair share of exposure in the book as within the first thirty pages, one character, Kizuki, commits suicide by inhaling car fumes, causing a ripple effect for Watanabe and Naoko, and is partial the foundation for most of their ensuing storyline as Kizuki was Watanabe’s best friend and Naoko’s boyfriend. So yeah, not going to tell you more on that front, but a lot of what happens to Watanabe and Naoko, individually and together, is the result of this early defined event.
Both Watanabe and Naoko are deeply affected by Kizuki’s suicide which reasons their move from the countryside to Tokyo for University, although done with consulting each other. Their shared experience leads the development of their relationship, and also their inability to move on from the death of their friend.
However Midori turns up into Watanabe’s life quite sporadically and, whereas Naoko is the symbol of beauty, mystery and certain brokenness for Watanabe, Midori is epitome of “living life to the full” and is, mostly, completely devoid of the problems which repeatedly dog Naoko. Midori comes to represent the hopes of a better future that is, for the most part, undamaged and accepting of Watanabe’s difference to other contemporaries of his.
While Midori has a socially conservative boyfriend, and Watanabe has Naoko, their relationship is more companionate than Watanabe’s relationship with Naoko and leaves you wondering whether Watanabe will attempt to forge a future with the damaged beauty of Naoko or radiant livewire that is Midori and, in all honesty, Murakami portrays each character so clearly that it is hard to have your preferences, though no doubt you will eventually choose.
There is a whole host of side characters which feed into the plot, and they are all well-rounded, flesh out characters which deserve to be mentioned, but I won’t as if I do, I’ll go too far into their storylines and ruin the book for you.
The social and sexual journeys of these young people are so thoroughly explored and beautifully depicted by Murakami that you can easily get engrossed with this book as it leaves little to the imagination. Everything is given its own quality that leaves you feeling sullen or literally laughing out loud. Murakami definitely has a flair for humour, especially I feel with Midori, so even if you feel slightly depressed with the more serious aspect of Naoko and Watanabe, for the most part, Watanabe and Midori near enough always secures a laugh with every scene.
What’s also fantastic about this novel is that it such an easy read. The ideas that Murakami is trying to convey are not made completely abstract as some authors attempt in their novels, rather the notions are put squarely in front of you and force you to deal with it.
Norwegian Wood plays on the “growing-up” the me brilliantly and, although the circumstances surrounding the growing up of most the characters may be somewhat different to your own, Murakami still portrays a common feeling of the sense of growing up to the reader, whilst also giving a poignant and original story of love.
So I hoped you liked my inaugural book review and if you have read Norwegian Wood, or anything by Haruki Murakami, or just want to tell me something I should be reading and could possibly do a review about, please tell me in the comments below!
Also, I hate saying I will do something then end up not doing it, but I shall be publishing reviews of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and then I shall be reviewing the film Wilde, which stars Stephen Fry and Jude Law, to tie into the book review beforehand, so for those interested in Oscar Wilde I hope these two related posts will satisfy you.
And yes, I know the film Dorian Gray would be more relevant in connection to the book and has some actors I like in it: i.e.: Colin Firth and Ben Chaplin, but seriously a film about the author as portrayed by Stephen Fry is definitely more worthy of a review. And yes, I’m writing like I have a huge audience that hangs upon my every word and proceeds to spout my views to all their friends acting like their own in the bar scene from Good Will Hunting sort of way, but damn it let me have my delusions!
Also if you want to read some more Japanese literature, definitely check out Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro. If you want something on University life and growing up, check out Sanshiro by the same author, Soseki. And if you want something oozing sex , realtionships and has a bit of history, definitely check out Ken Follett’s The Pillar’s of the Earth and the sequel World Without End.