I am listening to Norwegian Wood by the Beatles and quietly sipping a small glass of wine on a rather lonely and uneventful Friday. Not that I am complaining – this much-needed solitude after five days of constant walking and partying feels very well deserved. I am listening to Norwegian Wood, sipping a small glass of wine and wondering how I completely missed that turning point in my life when I changed from the utter romantic to the unbearable cynic. Is it me, or has the world become selectively deaf and blind? God forbid you might express the opinion that life doesn’t need to make sense or to have a purpose in order to be worth it – you are deemed attention seeker or worse, depressed, and there goes your social status. Most of the people around have been brainwashed by the so-called positive thinking, they have put on their pink glasses and they refuse to take them of. As if changing the exterior can ever alter the interior. And as if pretending to hide from your problems behind a fake smile and an attitude of “Eat, Pray, Love” or any Bucaism out there solves anything. Growing up, I feel ever so repelled by these people – quoting away any simple inspirational sentence they can find out there, fighting depression with fake happiness, turning themselves into people they believe they are supposed to be because this is what is cool nowadays. It is kind of trendy to be ignorantly positive. And it is kind of trendy to never show any weakness, to hang in there, to do everything and anything you read somewhere so that you are a perfect specimen of the 21st century – shallow, superficial, happy in your own ignorance of yourself.
It seemed quite natural, given all of the above, that Norwegian Wood, the novel that made Haruki Murakami a world-wide celebrity, should appeal to me. It’s all about the drama of growing up and how trying to make sense of the changes going on in your body and in your mind is enough to make you absolutely mad. It’s about a couple of suicides, a couple of dysfunctional females and an introvert male specimen in the centre of all this. Haruki Murakami’s novel is quite melancholic. Set in the 1970s, it explores the life of the Japanese youth, filled with depression, promiscuity and a desperate search for a meaning that could make sense of all of this. Told through the perspective of Toru, a somewhat quiet and lonely 20-something student in Tokyo, Norwegian Wood doesn’t really have a plot. It just has way too many troubled characters, each fighting an inner battle with no apparent solution. There is Naoko, whose mental problems caused by the suicides of the people closest to her, seem to have drained any will to live from her. Thеre is Reiko, an accomplished musician who falls into depression because of the crashing of her dreams and because of her complicated sexuality. And there is Midori – probably the most likeable character – whose dysfunctional family has turned her into a self-sufficient individual.
And yet I didn’t like Norwegian Wood. At least not as much as I liked 1Q84 and South of the Border, West of the Sun. Murakami tells a rather simple love story, which seems very authentic and very real even in translation. One can almost feel the hopelessness of the characters and one can almost relive his or her troublesome adolescence through their problems. Yet what I missed was that little spice of the unnatural and even magical that makes 1Q84 so compelling. Norwegian Wood is a different, younger, more naive Murakami. The author himself was surprised by the popularity of the novel, claiming it is definitely not his best. Nevertheless, all of the ingredients (see graph below) to a Murakami novel are there. Because of that, and because of Murakami’s knowledge of the dysfunctional human soul, I still give it 3 stars. Sort of worth the time.
More from Haruki Murakami:
‘Relax your body and the rest of you will lighten up. What’s the point of saying that to me? If I relaxed my body now, I’d fall apart. I’ve always lived like this, and it’s the only way I know how to go on living. If I relaxed for a second, I’d never find my way back. I’d go to pieces, and the pieces would be blown away.
I don’t want to waste valuable time reading any book that has not had the baptism of time. Life is too short.
If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.
…that we are in here not to correct the deformation but to accustom ourselves to it: that one of our problems was our inability to recognize and accept our own deformities.