Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

This is the third book by Haruki Murakami that I've read (the others being Kafka on the Shore and Pinball, 1973). I've noticed a positive correlation between how recently one of his books was published and how strange it is. While I prefer his more bizarre works - those that include old men who can speak cat and Colonel Sanders as a spirit guide - this was still an engaging and powerful book, and fits in perfectly on his upward trend of oddness.

Like Kafka on the Shore, Norwegian Wood is a coming of age story, set in Japan in 1970. Toru Watanabe is an eighteen year-old, apathetic college student in Tokyo. A lot of Murakami's own passions are reflected in the character (jazz and classical music, American Literature). Slightly semi-autobiographical, the story is wrought with a series of tragic events that almost seem absurd in their regularity and predictability. Each one feels like another crushing blow to Toru Watanabe, whose broody musings can really be chilling at times.

Death exists - in a paperweight, in four red and white billiard balls on a table - and we go on living and breathing it into our lungs like fine dust.

I lived through the following spring, at eighteen, with that knot of air in my chest, but I struggled all the while against becoming serious. Becoming serious was not the same thing as approaching truth, I sensed, however vaguely. But death was a fact, a serious fact, no matter how you looked at it. Stuck inside this suffocating contradiction, I went on endlessly spinning in circles. Those were strange days, now that I look back at them. In the midst of life, everything revolved around death.
It's a gripping, nostalgic story that left me feeling miserable. Poor Toru Watanabe is a brilliant kid whose hit with one horrible mishap after another, and left alone and floundering for anything of meaning and substance. This book is dark, at times depressing, and plenty erotic (though not as wildly or strangely erotic as Kafka on the Shore). Kafka on the Shore still stands as my favorite Murakami book, but I'd recommend this one too if you're not that into otherworldly stones or disappearing isolated mountain towns.

1 comment:

Brent Waggoner said...

Read Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It's weird enough for two books.