A coming of age story, Norwegian Wood is set in 1960s Tokyo and tells a classic tale of love and heart-break. After the suicide of his best friend Kizuki, university student Toru finds himself drawn to Kizuki's girlfriend, Naoko. He falls in love with Naoko, but she is damaged herself and may be incapable of giving Toru everything that he wants. When quirky Midori marches into his life, Toru finds himself torn between the two girls, as he also struggles with the process of becoming an adult.
I am new to Murakami, and I'm also new to Japanese literature in general. It's something I've wanted to try for a long time, but this is my first real attempt. Having done some research since finishing the novel, it's clear that I probably shouldn't have started with Norwegian Wood, as it's not at all typical of Murakami's work in general. I went into it expecting something kooky and slightly surreal, full of unusual elements, so was somewhat disappointed when it turned out to be a straight story. The story of Toru's growing up is interesting, and Murakami is no doubt a talented writer, but it just didn't match what I was expecting it to be, and that made the whole experience a bit jarring.
I did enjoy Murakami's characterisation, especially that of Midori. Midori is outgoing, lively and not afraid to say what she wants, even demanding it at times. In fact, all of the women in the novel were like this and I found it quite refreshing. I liked that Murakami captured the complex emotions of being a young adult, and that none of the situations were simplified. Toru's experiences had the feel of real life experiences, full of contrasting wants and desires. A large portion of the novel deals with mental health and suicide, and again I thought this was handled well by Murakami. Things do feel big and overwhelming when you're Toru's age, and the sections on mental health captured this perfectly.
As I'm writing this, I'm trying to work out exactly why I didn't love this novel. It has so many strong elements, but the reading experience was underwhelming for me. I found it a bit too long and repetitive in places, and it's not a book that I enjoyed picking up and diving into. I could understand Toru, but it was hard to relate to him. I'm leaving the book keen to try another Murakami (perhaps The Wind Up Bird Chronicle?), but I can't see myself ever reading this one again.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1987
Edition Read: Vintage, 2003
Score: 3 out of 5