I fancied something a little different for my holiday reading. I’ve never read anything by a Japanese author as far as I can recall, and my local Waterstones had one of those little review placards recommending this book. Norwegian Wood was published in 1987 and was the book that won Murakami national acclaim in Japan, even if this wasn’t something he was striving for.
The story of this book is framed as a nostalgic memory of a man on a plane, recalling his youth through the experience of a Beatles song played as the plane lands. The song takes Toru Watanabe back to his university years in 1960s Tokyo, and recollections of his life after the suicide of his high-school best friend. The book is, first and foremost, a tale of lust and love, an attempt to work out who Toru is and what he stands for.
Whilst this book may not sound like the perfect choice for a sunny holiday read for beside the pool, something about the restless of Toru’s story and the general themes this book explores spoke to the youth within me. It is not a happy story, it could leave you broken, but at least the book ends with the glimmer of hope that he will come out the other side. The characters, particularly the women that Toru encounters throughout are vividly drawn as though this book was more than just a memory; the only negative in this portrayal is that all is written from Toru’s point of view and I found it hard to sympathise with some of the others, their demands on Toru seemed unreasonable.
This book is both poignant and realistic. I savoured everything that happened yet ripped through it towards its disastrous climax. The climax did not mark the end of the book, the downfall that came afterwards only added to the disaster. The matter-of-fact way in which death is recorded, contrasted with the pain and suffering that the characters experience and come to terms with are the reasons I would compel others to read this book; as a coming of age novel as well as a solace for loss. If I encounter another Murakami book again, I’ll be sure to read it.