29 December, 2014

Book Review: Norwegian Wood

From Goodreads: 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 poignant story of one college student's romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man's first, hopeless, and heroic love.

Thoughts:  I read this as part of my 100 Best Books List challenge for the love category.
I was vaguely aware of this before I read it. One of those things where you know it's been made into a movie, you know it's been raved about, but you don't actually have any idea what it's about. With this huge sum of knowledge, I entered the world of Toru Watanabe, student, survivor of his friend's suicide, searcher of...who knows. Watanabe comes across to me as I imagine many people are at 18/19 - not really sure what they want and just killing time until it becomes obvious. His friendship of Naoko is a tortured exploration of first love, complicated by her mental illness. Add into this mix Toru's friendship with the rebellious Midori and you have a story that takes many twists and turns and leaves the reader feeling just as confused and unsure as any one was at this stage of their life.
It's hard to judge Murakami's writing as this is a translation. In reality you are judging the ability of the translator to convey the original meaning. If it's any reflection of Murakami's writing, it's lyrical and moving. Reviews and other information I've read suggests this is the most straight forward of Murakami's books which makes me wary of reading anything else he's written.
Norwegian Wood is a unique love story. I'm not sure you could call it beautiful, although I found the prose to be so. If Murakami's other writing is more "out there" than this I think I will steer clear. I find translated books often lose something in the translation and I feel a story not so straight forward could lose much of it's impact.