Book #72

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.

A pervasive emptiness has stayed with me in the few days since I finished this novel. Murakami has plagued me with thoughts of death, love, life and complete sadness. This isn’t something I was expecting, nor something I wanted, and yet I feel richer for reading this novel. It’s difficult to finish for many reasons, and a joy in places. I’m still quite conflicted on how I feel overall, but I’m beginning to come round to the idea of this being one of Murakami’s intentions.

Toru is a young student in Tokyo in the late-sixties. We see him experience university life in an almost detached and apathetic manner. Since the suicide of his best friend Kizuki, he has been languishing in the past, unable to comprehend his friend’s reasonings, and harbouring a strong reluctance to move forward in either time or maturity.

After running into Kizuki’s girlfriend Naoko and spending time with her, these feelings only seem to multiply and congeal. Naoko’s mental state is in a worse condition than Toru’s, and we see them attempt to navigate loss together, never quite able to convey what they want to say, and continuing to lie in gloom, entirely unable to escape.

Murakami shows us Toru’s journey from teenager to adult, and although much of it is peppered with the types of things we all experience, Toru has his grief and confusion to carry with him. He seems on edge at all times; depressed, overwhelmed, lost. And we begin to wonder about those teenagers who were unable to withstand the journey into adulthood and chose to end their life where they were; in low numbers and low spirits.

It’s a heartbreaking, but truly real account of how life’s knocks can stay with us, and how they adjust our perceptions of the world and ourselves. I found this very difficult to get through; the writing made me feel as though I were in a different world, one with a dark ominous mist hanging over it. When I reached the final page, I felt as though I’d reached clean air.

My first Murakami, and one which, if I understand correctly, defies everything he has previously written. Without the merits of a benchmark for me to hold him against himself, I wonder if I may change my opinions and understanding of Norwegian Wood once I’ve read some more of his work.