Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Book Review: "Norwegian Wood" by Haruki Murakami

I want to begin by wishing everyone a happy new year! This is my first post on Caponomics in the year of 2015. I hope to work toward a few of my goals that relate to contributing to this blog (we are just seven posts away from 300!!!), working on Literary Gladiators, and looking for markets to which I can enter my fiction. As always, though, I plan to read as much as I possibly can. The first novel I completed during the new year is from an author I have been interested in reading for quite awhile: Haruki Murakami. Murakami is a Japanese author known most for his trippy magical realism, but I began with Norwegian Wood. This novel was the one that brought his recognition, despite the fact that it does not fall along the lines of the common trend of his signature works. Norwegian Wood creates a different kind of magic, the one that explores relationships and the struggles of second guessing and over thinking during a crucial time in one's life. I felt that this was a good start to my interest in such an intriguing author.

"Norwegian Wood" was a song written and performed by The Beatles. The song is reflective of John Lennon's extramarital affair he was having with Yoko Ono while he was still married to Cynthia Powell. The protagonist in this novel, Toru Watanabe, is a college student that faces the struggles of being attracted by multiple girls. Set in 1969 in Japan, but heavily influenced by American culture, Toru is making it through college with a degree in drama. It seems as if he is an art student who feels he has one life to live and will live it as he pleases. The only issue is that he questions himself so very often, which is a struggle that plenty of individuals deal with. He has slept with a handful of women, but the women that catch his eye the most are Naoko, who dated Toru's friend Kizuki, who took his own life; and Midori, a more liberated girl who Toru meets in college after he is separated from Naoko. After finding the real world too complicated, which includes the ability to understand her feeling with Toru, Naoko goes to live in a special community for people who deal with a state of mental instability. Unlike an institution, this community actually functions as a special form of living quarters that plays as an assisted living without so much assistance. She is living with the free spirited, oddball Reiko, who is in her late thirties, has plenty of musical talents, especially for Beatles songs.

Toru's struggle comes in the form of figuring out whether or not he loves Naoko or Midori better. He feels as if he has an obligation to give Naoko the best possible life she can possibly have, despite her state of insanity. Midori, on the other hand, has a mindset that is a bit more predictable. She has the ability to hold bitter feelings, but not in the way that she can break out of character at any moment. The biggest decision Toru has to make is whether he lives in the past or lives in the present and for the future. Naoko is a representative of the misery brought about by the past, which is caused by an inability to completely cope with Kizuki's suicide and the empty spot it left. Midori, on the other hand, represents a new life and an ability to deal with every curve ball life may bring about and make something better out of the experience. What comes out of it is a compromise (which is all I will say), but I will say that the novel begins on a flight to Germany in 1987 and the story is driven on a memory Toru has about being in a meadow with Naoko. This imagery Murakami gave about the meadow was just brilliant and drove me right in to what he wanted to convey. He is truly mesmerizing.

Haruki Murakami has been a nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature for the last few years. When I thought he was going to win for the last two, Alice Munro and Patrick Modiano won in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Munro and Modiano were both deserving of the title, though I feel that eventually it will come time for Murakami and his ability to quench the western culture in eastern land to be rewarded. This is the reverse of Hermann Hesse, who brought a taste of eastern culture to the west. Norwegian Wood was a very good novel. I liked the fact that Toru was a central figure that one could relate to. There are plenty of men around the age of nineteen and twenty that tackle the same type of struggle, even if it does not mean they have the opportunity to choose between two or more women or end up in bed with several by this time in life. He was surrounded by a good core group of individuals, such as a more rational, rule following Nagasawa, who was his roommate. Norwegian Wood follows a different group of individuals, who act different, think different, and solve problems in different ways.

The thing that bugged me the most was an event toward the end of the novel that proved to be a bit awkward and brought a sense of ridicule and discomfort. I could see in some ways where Murakami was trying to head, but the way to which the novel was left proved to be a bit mind boggling. What I did enjoy is that it did a fine job accomplishing what it set out to accomplish. It explored the idea of passionate feelings between men and women, even the idea of interaction between women. Reiko admitted feelings of joy when it came to making out with a woman, even though she did so to a student she taught piano lessons to, which was a bit creepy. At one point in time, even Naoko has a female to female experience. More often than once, Norwegian Wood explores sexual passions in a descriptive, erotic kind of way. This kind of intense love story would surely make way to something quite descriptive and in some ways indulging.

Norwegian Wood can be deemed a good way to begin reading the work of Murakami. It is light in the way that there is not too much to consume in the way that it is a love story and not a novel filled with multiple hallucinations. It is intense in the way that the subject matter and the passion that is used to drive it is taken to its limit, so it really stands ground in its area. Murakami is an author that sounds intriguing in a group of intriguing Japanese authors. Unfortunately, suicide has been a common trend among Japanese authors (such as Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima, and Ryunosuke Akutagawa), which is reflected in multiple instances in this novel. Fortunately, Murakami is still active and this trend has toned down.

Simply put, Norwegian Wood accomplishes what it intends to, even if it possesses slight imperfections that will always be evident to at least a small percentage among a group of individuals.

Verdict: 8/10

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