Monday, February 14, 2011

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Completion Date: February 5, 2011
Reason for Reading: I have wanted to try Murakami for a while.
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.
First up, I had no idea that Murakami, (who I have a hard time spelling correctly), was scary for people. I have seen wonderful reviews, but my library has none of his books. Then, at the end of the year I decided enough was enough and requested through inter-library loan a few of the books that I have really wanted to read for a while and not gotten around to. Norwegian Wood was one such book. The entire time I was reading this book I was having moments of excitement, but in the back of my mind I was thinking things through. The truth is that this is not my type of book. So, even when I finished it I couldn't decide if I liked it or not. My first instinct was that I only kinda liked it, but the more I think about it the more I think I loved it.

Let's get down to facts here. It is not a page-turner. It mostly moves along very slowly and there is not a lot of action. Toru tells his story the entire time, so you are limited to his view on everything. That being said, the characters in this book were all very captivating. They were all broken in their own way, but it was not overwhelming. They were captured wonderfully through the eyes of the narrator. Even still, while I write this review I am toiling with myself over what my final thoughts are on the book. There were some things that I absolutely loved, but there are other things that even days later I am still mulling over.

I do know that when I read the first page I had a moment of excitement, and who wouldn't, because I read this:
Once the plane was on the ground, soft music began to flow from the ceiling speakers: a sweet orchestral cover version of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood." The melody never failed to send a shudder through me, but this time it hit me harder than ever.
At this point I paused and went off in search of the cc so I could tell him the book was in fact named after the Beatles song. I love the Beatles and this connection drew me right in. I had been having a hard time getting into my books so far this month, but the fact that I was reading a book with a Beatles connection really sparked my interest. I wanted to know more. Things just continued to get better in these areas. There were further mentions of the Beatles and then there were some amazing quotes about reading because the narrator is a big reader himself. During these moments I felt entirely connected. These are the things that I can say with no doubt in my mind that I loved.

This leads me to a problem, though. Do I just love those moments, or do I love the overall story. I have been trying to decide. You can't say you love a book unless it is pretty much perfect, so even though I felt love for the book, I am not sure if I can say I am 'in love' with it. My mind cannot seem to get beyond the fact that this is not my normal sort of read. This is a book that I would say that I liked and moved on without a backward glance. Instead, I have been ruminating on this book over and over again for the last few days. I hate coming-of-age books, but I think there are exceptions. This is one of them. This review is terribly incoherent, but as I am thinking about what to say I am caught by the fact that this book was pretty much amazing. Everything was masterfully done and the cast of characters really captured me. Would I like the book without the music and book references, maybe not, but it would not be the same book at all without them.

The easy answer is that this may not be my favourite book ever, but it comes very close. I think what will need to happen is I will think about it even further and buy myself a copy so I can revisit it again. I went in expecting to only kind of like it, but I think the book surprised me.

This book counts for the TwentyEleven Reading Challenge.


  1. Hm, I wonder what I would feel without that connection to the Beatles. I don't dislike them, but I don't like them either, and I don't believe I've ever even heard the song Norwegian Wood. If I have, I wouldn't recognize it...

  2. I'm one of those people who is scared of Murakami...but Chris assigned me this one for the swap. And I have to say that your review just made me very, very happy. And maybe a wee bit less afraid. ;)

  3. *squeal* Love LOVE LOVE the Beatles. I'm glad to read that the title definitely was inspired by their song and there are moments of Beatleness in the book.

  4. I liked this book quite a lot as well...isn't it great when a book surprises you and even though it may not be in your usual style, or even not quite what you thought it might be, it catches you and you end up enjoying it? Some of the books I recall most strongly are the ones that surprised me this way. (but this is one of the only Murakami books I've read)

  5. I have one of his books but I haven't read it yet. I've had it for a couple of years now...

  6. I have not yet conquered a Murakami, but he is definitely an impressive writer and I will get back to him, someday. Eldest son has made off with two of my Murakami books, so I'm not even sure what I've got in the house.

    Those books that keep rolling around in your head . . . that's what I really love. I like it when I keep coming back to a book, mulling it like you did with Norwegian Wood. You're making me want to nudge my son to finish reading my copy!! :)

  7. What a great review! I'm not a Beatles fan, but the writing sounds lovely - I may still give it a try.

  8. I've had this one on my shelves for a while, and really want to get to it this year!

  9. Amanda: Well, other people like the book and don't necessarily like the Beatles. I might have liked it without, but hard to say since it was such a part of the book.

    Debi: I hope you enjoy it!

    christina: I was very happy for the Beatles connection!

    Melwyk: I was surprised in liking this one, but it is hard to say if I would like anything else by him... Maybe one day I will see!

    Tink: I think it was good that I was limited in time for reading this or I may never have...

    Bookfool: I am very happy that this book rolled around in my head and continues to.

    Carrie: He is a great writer, so it works on that level, too.

    Darren: It was good. I hope you do get to it!

  10. I too am a person who has read reviews that claim Murakami is difficult, but I never read him Your review has piqued my interest, though. I enjoy books that stir my preconceived notions of what I do & don't like. Plus, I like coming of age novels. A book that gets me to think about myself is one I"m likely to buy.

    THanks for the link!
    ~ Amand


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