Friday, December 30, 2005

Book No. 43: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

I've become quite the Murakami fan this year. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka On The Shore were both brilliant, so I was quite looking forward to this novel. Unlike either of the other two novels, which combine dream-logic and Pynchon-like playfulness, this one is more or less a straight coming-of-age novel set in the late 60s. However, it retains Murakami's masterful ability to make both the strange and the ordinary seem equally alien and perfectly familiar through his tap into subconscious portents. When reading his books, I feel like I'm only inches away from reading a very compelling fairytale.

At the start of the story, the protagonist of Norwegian Wood is reminded of his youth by hearing the titular song on an airplane, and the rest of the novel takes place in his past. His best friend has committed suicide a year before, and he has become friendly and perhaps fallen in love with his best friend's girlfriend. After sleeping with him, she puts herself into a rural mental hospital, which he visits periodically. He meets another girl in Tokyo in the meantime, with whom he also falls in love. All of this is wrapped in the glow of youthful self-doubt and white-hot feelings, and all of the characters are perfectly realized. I wouldn't start reading Murakami here, but a nascent fan like me would probably find this swerve into strict realism to be poignant and fulfilling.


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