“Norwegian Wood” by Huraki Murakami – despite the title it’s a book set in Japan

When I purchased a copy of Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami from a charity shop I did so because I wanted to read something by this acclaimed author but also because I was intrigued to read about Norway from a Japanese point of view. It didn’t take many pages of reading before I understood my error. The title refers to the Beatles track of the same name which triggers memories in Toru of a time in his youth when he had first gone to university and he meets a young woman called Midori who enchants and captivates him mainly because she is so different from any woman he has known before.

Things are complicated for Toru because he is also drawn to Naoko who was the girlfriend of his roommate who committed suicide. He feels an attraction to her and also a responsibility for her and this affects how he thinks about life. Following the death of their mutual friend Naoko has a breakdown and part of her recovery or treatment is music which is where the Beatles are important.

This is essentially a coming of age novel as Toru leaves home and starts university and in the process becomes exposed to people and situations which are not familiar to him. It is also a sad novel in that there are several suicides and Toru is unlucky in love. It is apparently often cited as a romance or love story but that doesn’t seem to be its main theme. It is supposedly written from the future so we know that Toru moves on and is remembering these events but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of pleasant nostalgia as things are difficult for Toru, especially emotionally. Nearly everyone in the book is broken in some way and few wounds are healed.

Murakami is world renowned for his writing and this is one of his most popular books. I certainly didn’t hate it but I thought that it was without purpose and much of it was unresolved. I did learn something about Japan and its culture at the time in which the book is set but the story is more about what goes on inside Toru and how he reacts to events and people. The overall mood is rather melancholy. I don’t think that I’ll be rushing to read more of his books.

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