“Norwegian Wood” is the second book I have randomly picked up from Kinokuniya prior to my holiday in June. Substantially thicker than “South of the Border, West of the Sun” – considering how thin that book is – the two stories are strikingly similar. Read almost like another one of his ‘autobiographical fictions’, which the translator Jay Rubin insisted in his note that it is not. “Norwegian Wood” is a myriad of love and friendship through the eyes of Watanabe, from his age of 18 to 37. A story that anchors between this first love Naoko and another girl Midori. One that ends with a choice of the past and the future Watanabe has to make.
“Norwegian Wood” is one of Murakami’s earlier works. Hence, less surreal than “South of the Border”, almost read like a straightforward love story. By no means make “Norwegian Wood” a lesser work but rather, a different kind of work. The most striking feature that stands out from the rest of his novels is the structure within. I notice that each sub-plot involves three persons. Something would happen to one party, change the entire dynamic, and the sub-plot dissolves, replaced by another sub-plot of three persons. It is read like a continuation of one sub-plot riding onto the next one. All the way till the end of the novel, the same structure is maintained. I personally find this way of story writing original.
A lot of details have gone into the texture of the story. Hence, I wouldn’t be surprised that some readers have identified “Norwegian Wood” as an autobiographical fiction. Beyond the detail description of the school compound down to how the buildings are laid out, the characters are distinctly alive. Down to the tone each character uses, and to the change in tone as the same character face different characters of varied personalities. It is this level of details I appreciate deeply as I read this book during my holiday.
This book was released in 1987. I believe it was the same book that elevated Murakami to an International status with the readership grown to millions that year. Hence, in a way, “Norwegian Wood” could well be one of his most accessible work. Even as a die hard fan who is in love with Murakami’s special surreal treatment to his stories, “Norwegian Wood” having little of that surrealism still ranks high in my book. For a simple love story though can be dark, can still be beautiful.
After my holiday, I have visited Kinokuniya again and have randomly picked another two of Murakami’s books. So, stay tuned for more book summaries.