Norwegian Wood, wow. This book knocked me on my ass with the intensity of it. I asked Sonika if she’d read it, and she said it was her first introduction to Murakami, which I find interesting because it’s the least experimental in terms of an alternate reality. Then of course, my first was The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles at Sonika’s recommendation. Proof that no one really forgets their first experience with Murakami.
I can certainly see why people think that Norwegian Wood must be the most autobiographical of Murakami’s works. It’s the most down to earth, for one thing, and a coming to age story of a young man in college in love with two women. As always with Murakami, providing a plot summary is a bit complicated, so I refer you to Wikipedia.
The novel deals directly with sex, death, suicide and the meaning of love in a world overfilling with loss- literally, for lead character Toru. To fall in love with your best friend’s former girlfriend (Naoko) is enough of challenge for many, but when your best friend committed suicide in high school and left the two of you behind with a great deal of questions, such a relationship can only be tangled with grief and doomed to fail from the beginning. And yet, how could it not happen?
Murakami isn’t given to emotional writing. Rather, he writes about the characters’ day to day lives so realistically that as a reader, you feel yourself merging with the character and you no longer have to wonder what they are feeling because you are feeling it along with them. Given that Toru is dealing with the suicide of his best friend continually (by the nature of his very relationship with Naoko), his girlfriend/his best friend’s girlfriend slowly becoming emotionally unstable, and this situation being complicated by another girl- “intense” is the only word I can think of to describe it, and yet, the story feels perfectly plausible.
The experience of reading Norwegian Wood is feeling what it is to grow up all over again. It’s a wonder that anyone survives.