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Norwegian Wood

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Asking people to scroll through book blogs seems like asking a lot. I can't find a thread on this so will start one. 


This was one of the most wonderful reading experiences I've ever had. The book is no classic but it's wonderfully written and profoundly engaging. I honestly couldn't put it down. 


The story is fairly straight-forward and involves a man named Toru Watanabe reminiscing about his youth in the late 60s. After his best friend, Kizuki, commits suicide he becomes closer with Kizuki's girlfriend Naoko. They eventually have sex and Watanabe goes to university. Here he meets several characters, most notably Nagasawa and his girlfriend Hatsumi. Watanabe and Nagasawa begin going out drinking and meeting girls for sex. Watanabe then discovers that Naoko is in a sanitorium and struggling with her mental health. He writes to her, eventually visits, and they rekindle their romance. Naoko lives at the sanitorium with an older woman called Reiko (she tells a rather interesting tale about why she's also at the sanitorium which includes a story about teaching a 13-year-old girl to play the piano). 


The Japanese really do have a way when it comes to writing erotica, don't they? That being said, it felt like there was a little too much sex being used as an alternative to other, more conventional expressions of affection. Maybe that's a Japanese thing. I don't know. Everyone seems to need emotional reassurance but only expresses it through sex. Then again, it was set in the late 60s so maybe that's why.


The casual use of sex aside, my only criticism would be the chapter where Murakami jumps ahead and tells us about the future of one of the characters. This felt out of place since the whole narrative takes place chronologically. Only at the very beginning of chapter one does he write from the perspective of being an older man in the late 1980s. Then we dive into the story when he's 18 and stay with that story. But suddenly, halfway through the book, he informs us of a character's fate and it felt a little jarring.


I'm reliably informed that this is Murakami's most conventional novel. I'm not sure if I'd like his other works as much but based on this, I will definitely seek out more of his work. 


I honestly can't remember enjoying reading a book this much. Many people would assume that I might think the book is a masterpiece as a result of that (a mistake many contemporary readers make in my opinion). They think if the reading experience is good then that means the book must be also great. For me, it's more complicated than that. I tend to put books into 4 categories. 


1) The reading experience is wonderful. The book resonates, stays with you, changes your worldview, overwhelms you.

2) The reading experience is wonderful. But the book quickly fades from memory, doesn't hold its grip.

3) The reading experience is awful. But the book still somehow resonates, stays with you, overwhelms you etc.

4) The reading experience is awful. The book doesn't resonate, has nothing meaningful to say.


Category 4 is thankfully the most rare, followed by 3, then 1. For me, most books (and certainly most contemporary novels) are in category 2, including this. People make the mistake of thinking that if they really enjoyed reading a book then that must mean it is great literature. But often it's merely competently written *cough* Normal People *cough* etc. This is why so many modern novels get hyped, win awards, then disappear completely. 


I'd place this at the top end of category 2. Highly recommended. 



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Good to hear you enjoyed it.


I read it a few years ago now and enjoyed it as well, but - as you say - it is Murakami's most mainstream novel and (from my own experience) I can confirm that it is a very different from book from most of his other novels and short stories (which usually tend to have a more surreal or fantastical aspect to them - which I quite like...).


With regard to the sex, that does seem to be a cultural thing; the Japanese authors I have read are a lot less inhibited than western writers.  I used to think Murakami used sex as a blunt tool in his stories, but I now think I was reading too much into it at the time and by-and-large, it's quite often something that just happens during the course of a story.  A lot of Murakami's writing is set in the sixties as well, and jazz, bars, classical music, cooking - along with sex - are all recurring motifs in his writing (he dropped out of University and ran a jazz bar for a while, and his writing keeps going back to that). 


I think there are also a lot of Japanese readers who would argue your definition of a classic - it has certainly assumed that status in Japan and not just because it was popular (though Murakami did move to the US after it was published, to get out of the gaze of the media, such was its impact).


1 hour ago, Hux said:


I can't find a thread on this so will start one. 



There is a long-standing Murakami thread here:


Haruki Murakami - General Fiction - Book Club Forum


That has more information on his novels, from a range of posters, that you might find useful.


Also, there is a film version of Norwegian Wood if you are interested (my own opinion was that it is well filmed, but I remember being disappointed with it when I saw it, as I felt it lacked the humour that I enjoyed in the book).


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