Yet another post about an experience I had, this time it just happens to be an experience of reading a book- Norwegian Wood, that, if put best, deals with melancholy, mortality and uncertainty.
Before I start writing about my experience of this book, a few facts.
- The book’s title alludes to a simple yet incredibly melodious Beatles’ single “Norwegian Wood”. Do give it a listen!
- This is the second Murakami book I have read. The first one being “The Hard Boiled Wonderland…” The two are as diagonally opposite as possible.
- Written in 1987, the book is originally in Japanese, and made Murakami an overnight star in Japan, much to his dismay. He moved out of Japan shortly after. That’s how eccentric he is, and it definitely reflects in his writing.
- I got the book for reading from Clapshare, a book sharing application. They do have a decent process in place. Try if you would.
I had heard a lot about this book, and how it leaves a lasting impact on you. When I was done through some 20 pages, I was very sure this is going to be a simple story plot, but the added dimensions to the book will be provided by its characters. They are the main heroes here, second only to Murakami’s writing style.
The book is about a teenage boy- Toru Watanabe, an ordinary Japanese guy and his outlook on life, death and relationships. But the book is what the book is because of the people in Toru’s life and through his voice, we get an insight into Naoko, Midori, Nagasawa, Reiko and Hatsumi. All of them have played a pivotal role in bringing Toru to where he is, they have in a way helped him grow as a person, have led him to a self-destructive path and at the same time helped him delve into, and find himself. They all represent a certain human characteristic, I want to believe they all come together to render a complete image of Toru, they were different dimensions of his personality all along.
Every conversation, interaction that Toru has with a character is marked with a reminiscence, a memory and a ritual that Toru and the character often do together. Be it his walks with Naoko and Reiko, his lunch outings and drinks with Midori, his girl-scouting expeditions with Nagasawa. Every dialogue in the book is crisp, direct and nothing you would expect. I have certainly not read anything that digs so deep into human emotions and the living experience, but on the surface is as placid as it can get.
A major theme of the book is sorrow. Dealing with loss and the consequent battle of overcoming it. There is a lot of symbolism, especially the way the beginning of the book connects to the end. Or at least I think so. Also, the book talks openly about sex, and has a lot of influence on how the story shapes up. I was not expecting such an honest discussion and portrayal on sex. Not the way George R.R. Martin does it, that one is purely perverted.
This book is one that after reading it once, you can pick it up anytime, open any page and still enjoy that one page in its entirety. Every dialogue the characters have, every description Toru provides, can cut you off from your thought process and lure you into this poignant take on everything that is life.
Before I forget, this book also has a lot of music references. It is loaded with a lot of songs that are being played or being listened to during the course of the book. There is a brilliant collation of his song references and a customized playlist made out of Murakami books can be found here. Check it out!
To summarize, Norwegian Wood is not enticing or gripping or adventurous or fancy. If you ask me, I did not love it as much as I thought I would. But I can certainly acknowledge this much- the book is different. It is a reflection of reality and how even the simplest of people end up drawing out the most complex emotions in life.
It only seems logical to end the post with a few lines from the song.
And when I awoke, I was alone, this bird had flown
So I lit a fire, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood.