Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami is going to be one of those books that I re-read for the rest of my life. Halfway through 2018, I found myself unable to get invested in any book, but from the first page, I was hooked. I’ve always been a fan of Murakami’s writing style, but this book shook me to my core. Since I first ready it in 2018, I’ve read it two more times. I still enjoy it as much as my first read.
Before I read it for the first time, I had already heard about it, both good and bad things. I knew that a lot of Murakami cult fans found it to be a bit of a betrayal of his classic metaphysical and magical realist style, considering it to be “just a love story.” Yet from other people, I heard that it was tragic, poetic, and one of their favorites. In fact, Murakami even said that Norwegian Wood was a way for him to challenge his writing style by publishing something completely different from what he usually does.
Taking place in Tokyo in 1969, Norwegian Wood is narrated by Toru Watanabe, who reminds me a bit of Holden Caulfield. This is not surprising to me, as there is a lot of influence from Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald in Murakami’s writing.
It’s a bit of a coming-of-age story; where romance, misery, and confusion thrive. Toru Watanabe loses his best friend, Kizuki, to suicide, at the age of 17. Then, he falls in love with Kuzuki’s life-long girlfriend, who is sweet and beautiful and kind, but sick and overcome with grief. Over the course of the book, Watanabe seems drawn to well-spoken, troubled, and seriously interesting women, all of whom seem to fall for him. Unfortunately, he is also drawn to tragedy.
One thing that drew me to Watanabe’s character is how lonely he was. He rarely flat-out said that he was lonely, but as Murakami would describe Watanabe’s day to day life, you felt that pain in your heart that is undeniably lonely. As someone who has, for some unknown reason, always felt lonely, I really connected with this character.
Murakami has a way with words and the voice he gives Watanabe is more poetic than novelistic. Somehow this book is beautiful, touching, painful, and delicate. Even the third time I read it, I cried many times. Quite simply, the book is tragic, and the reader is constantly hit with emotional blows. As is always the case with Murakami’s writing, we can’t help but feel attached to the reader and so, when they are hurting, so are we, the readers.
Although Norwegian Wood was published in 1989, it feels completely timeless and eternal. I don’t think it’s a book that I could ever truly grow tired of, especially now that I’ve been to Tokyo and can visualize the book more. I think that this one of the best books to introduce someone to Murakami’s writing, as a lot of his other works can be dense and confusing.
It’s up to you whether you’ll read it or not. But, no matter what genre of writing you prefer, I guarantee you that you will enjoy Norwegian Wood. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book, which is also one of the most well-known quotes of Murakami.
“I was always hungry for love. Just once, I wanted to know what it was like to get my fill of it — to be fed so much love I couldn’t take any more. Just once.”