Norwegian Wood

Author: Haruki Murakami
Published: 1987
Website: Amazon page

Taken from: the three Murakami novels I have now read, Norwegian Wood is the simplest. The characters are easy to understand and relate to, the ending is obvious once you read the first page, and the novel as a whole focuses so much on character development and dialogue that I cannot name a single city or town which made an appearance in the work besides for Tokyo (which constantly loomed in the background without providing any added substance). Murakami, or perhaps his translator (I sadly am not fluent in Japanese), managed to present the characters to the reader perfectly; and what is so remarkable about the handful of lead characters in Norwegian Wood is how boringly they each oscillate between unsympathetic grumpiness, remarkably verbose descriptions of their mainly petty ethical and situational quandaries, and extremely loud ‘the-real-word-fast-approaches… ahhhhhhhhhhh’-ness.

Norwegian Wood is the tale of Toru Watanabe and his search for love and friendship while in college, which, as cliché as it might sound, is an idea that Murakami is very capable of using as a standard framework for a surprising story. Yet it seems like the novel is missing a pivotal subplot as Toru, the over-analyzing protagonist, collects a ragtag group of friends who bridge the many social groups to which Toru is only tangentially connected and complain about the complexity of life. Sputnik Sweetheart and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle each contained a beautiful spark of magical realism which raised relatable characters to lovable heights, and perhaps that is what Norwegian Wood is missing; or maybe I just don’t enjoy the fact that Toru is much less sympathetic and interesting than Naoko, the woman he loves. Murakami excels at writing pages of wonderfully meandering description and carefully constructing deeply flawed people to be the heroes of his otherwise banal work, but Norwegian Wood just feels like Murakami tried really hard to mirror a classic story of forbidden love without twisting it or bending it at all.


3 Comments to “Norwegian Wood”

  1. This is why I like Murakami’s short fiction. The shorter form showcases his odd and sometimes brilliant juxtapositions and forces him to curb his digressive tendencies!

  2. I often get the impression that in reading a book as simple as this one that I lose all the details, and not just places but also names. Do you think this is a failure of the author or the reader?
    – Chana

  3. I think you forgetfulness, Ezra, has more to do with reading the book in a single day than with the book itself, which I read in April and liked. I think the key event of the book (which is very similar to “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” and admittedly done better there–view Norwegian Wood as a tune-up) is Toru’s symbolic relationship with the many women that surround him. He does not have “a ragtag group of friends,” rather a bunch of very odd women and two men, one after the other. Joseph Campbell would call these women the multiple faces of the goddess, who Toru meets with in turn in his quest to make sense of modern life, which he finally does in the end. I won’t go into the symbolism of each woman without the book in front of me, but I think you’re being a little too dissmissive here, Ezra.


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