Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami Book Review

tumblr_m5asxf85CL1qgl2vwBefore I bought this book, I’ve heard so many things about it.

Publishing this book in Japan made Murakami somewhat a ‘literary superstar’ in his country. Out of all his works, i think this is the first and ‘only’ normal novel he has written. Normal in a good kind of way. If you’ve read at least one or two of his works (novel or a short story), surrealism is a distinct theme in all of them.

So I was sooo excited to see a different side of his writing.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsNorwegian wood was a weird story. I think it was not a love story but multiple love stories. And the women were deranged, disturbed, broken and utterly beautiful in their imperfections. The words flow like music from the page and each sentence is beautifully tailored to pass its maximum message.

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100722_norwegianwoodThis is the story of a normal boy whose friend commits suicide at the tender age of 17 leaving behind the confusion that follows a tragic death and the idea of death embedded in the minds of those who loved him.
His girlfriend at the time, Naoko, starts off normal but after a short while is taken into a mental patients hospital of a certain kind – where people could retreat into nature and work out their own problems by helping others go through their own, where doctors and patients were mingled together and you could not tell the two apart, where life had a peacefulness to it that would not be possible anywhere else.

While Naoko retreats here, Toru is continuing his life, writing long letters to Naoko, visiting her in the summer and then again in the winter, wanting very hard for her to be “healed” so they could be together. The peacefulness of their encountered in the summer has still stayed with me long after the book has ended. Why can’t people live like this village people all the time?

Norwegian-Wood-007

He goes to university, attends classes and his days are filled with studying and working part-time in a record shop.
Norwegian_Wood
Their life apart seems to be saddening them both and he is unconsciously retreating from the public life and living in a detached state, much like she is. All is suspended in the air, waiting for something to change.

I read Naoko’s letter again and again, and each time I read it I would be filled with the same unbearable sadness I used to feel whenever Naoko stared into my eyes. I had no way to deal with it, no place I could take it to or hide it away. Like the wind passing over my body, it had neither shape nor weight, nor could I wrap myself in it.

The circle of life and death is shown here with the passing of seasons, one after another, changing the outside while the inside is slowly breaking.

Slowly, Toru falls in love with another girl and is not sure whether he should let Naoko know that he is ready to move on. Their relationship was never defined as girlfriend and boyfriend but he did promise her they could move in together once she was better. And if this is not a sign of commitment, what is?

Midori is the exact opposite of Naoko. She is lively, she is taking care of herself and her sick father and his bookshop and her little sister. She is active and she likes Toru. And he likes her back.

– I really like you, Midori. A lot.”
“How much is a lot?”
“Like a spring bear,” I said.
“A spring bear?” Midori looked up again. “What’s that all about? A spring bear.”
“You’re walking through a field all by yourself one day in spring, and this sweet little bear cub with velvet fur and shiny little eyes comes walking along. And he says to you, “Hi, there, little lady. Want to tumble with me?’ So you and the bear cub spend the whole day in each other’s arms, tumbling down this clover-covered hill. Nice, huh?”
“Yeah. Really nice.”
“That’s how much I like you.

 

Them two being together feels like spring – new beginnings and new hope everywhere. Him and Naoko feels like winter – a lot of history together and the coldness makes you wish for more warmth. Naoko also makes me think of death. Her sister commited suicide – and she was a bright student with nothing to lose. Her boyfriend and childhood friend also commited suicide without an apparent reason to do so. In the end, she takes her life too, but not until she almost takes Watanabe with her.

Naoko seems to feel something is going on with Watanabe in the “outside world” and the happier he is, the sicker she gets. As her condition deteriorates she has to be moved to a normal psychiatric hospital where she dies shortly after. Torn by guilt for not being able to fulfill his promise to her, he blocks out his new love and goes into a solitary lifestyle. He looses weight and he is no more than a living ghost.
All changes when Reiko, Naoko’s room mate, comes to visit him to offer closure.

“Death is not the opposite of life but an innate part of life.”
By living our lives, we nurture death. True as this might be, it was only one of the truths we had to learn. What I learned from Naoko’s death was this: no truth can cure the sorrow we feel from losing a loved one. No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see it through to the end and learn something from it, but what we learn will be no help in facing the next sorrow that comes to us without warning.

He seems to have been healed by her arrival and is ready to take the next step. The book ends abruptly on a weird note

“Gripping the receiver, I raised my heads and turned to see what lay beyond the phone box. Where was I now? I had no idea. No idea at all. Where was this place? All that flashed into my eyes were the countless shapes of people walking by to nowhere. Again and again I called out for Midori from the dead centre of this place that was no place.”

What does it mean?
Watanabe is shown to be someone who cannot open up about his problems – even his friend Nagasawa comments on how he is secretive when it comes to his personal life. And because the book is in Watanabe’s voice, I got the feeling that he was always struggling to be detached from the many problems in his life.

However, in the end, he finally decides to ‘open’ up to all the tragedy in his life – and the feeling of ‘dead centre’ etc comes from finally allowing all the tragedies to affect him. he’s finally letting go.

We’re not told if he is pulled back from this darkness by Midori, who is at the other end of the telephone line – but I’d like to believe she did. Just the fact that Watanabe chose Midori over Naoko shows that he chose life over death, I think.

Another reason why I thought it all ended well is because the story begins 10 years later, when he is in the plane and he hears “Norwegian Woods” playing. He loses control for an instance, but then recovers. I think it shows that though he is scarred by his past, he has also managed to move on.

resena-tokio-blues-haruki-murakami-L-R6oIIiWhat happens when people open their hearts?”…
“They get better.”

 

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