Norwegian Wood

I grew up with this novel. I first read it in the fifth grade along with 69 and The Catcher in the Rye, when my father unexpectedly brought home a stack of secondhand books. Practically overnight, I changed from an innocent eleven-year-old to a confused, world-wary girl. Norwegian Wood confirmed my suspicions about sex and introduced me to lesbianism. It was the most sinful book I had come across at the time. Unfortunately, I only had the second part (Kodansha English Library separated it into two volumes), so my first full reading came only this week, after Iggy graciously lent me his brand-new copy.

The novel tells the story of Toru Watanabe, a young man torn between his commitment to the fragile Naoko and the possibility of a real future with the free-spirited Midori. Amidst a whirl of alcohol, sex, music and youth uprisings, he makes his choice, and finds himself abruptly swept into an adulthood that leaves him forever looking back.

No sheep-man, no little green monster, no vanishing elephant: Norwegian Wood seems as normal as they come. But even without a Murakami spectacle, the book never gets boring. Song-triggered flashbacks, adolescent stories, casual conversations—even in these, this author is never dull. I confess to obvious bias. After all, this is my favorite Murakami novel so far. At eleven, I saw nothing in this book beyond sex and scandal. At twenty, I went into it with a whole lot less naiveté and came out much more fulfilled, albeit sadder. I only now begin to understand the strange bond between Toru and Naoko, born out of a shared sorrow. All throughout this novel, characters struggle to cope, to let the forward pull of time carry them onward, even as they bring along with them departures that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Words flowed easily from page to mind in this second reading. I recalled fragments from nine years ago: Naoko feeding the birds in her yellow raincoat, Midori standing beneath a streetlamp (drunk and clamoring for a tree to climb), Toru grieving beside a fisherman on an unknown shore. I had not realized it, but these images have stayed with me through the years, and somehow I have a feeling there they will remain—perhaps until the next time I stumble upon them again, perhaps forever.

I straightened up and looked out of the window at the dark clouds hanging over the North Sea, thinking of all I had lost in the course of my life: times gone for ever, friends who had died or disappeared, feelings I would never know again.

‘…when I’m really close to you like this, I’m not the least bit scared. Nothing dark or evil could ever tempt 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 want you always to remember me. Will you remember that I existed, and that I stood next to you here like this?’

‘Just once, I wanted to know what it was like to get my fill of it—to be fed so much love I couldn’t take any more.’

‘If I have left a wound inside you, it is not just your wound but mine as well.’

‘The dead will always be dead, but we have to go on living.’

It was as if I were writing letters to hold together the pieces of my crumbling life.

Somewhere inside me there was still preserved a broad, open space, untouched, for Naoko and no one else.

‘…you need to grab whatever chance of happiness where you find it…we get no more than two or three such chances in a lifetime, and if we let them go, we regret it for the rest of our lives.’

Midori responded with a long, long silence—the silence of all the misty rain in the world falling on all the new-mown lawns of the world.

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8 thoughts on “Norwegian Wood

  1. glenn

    “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.”

    My gahd. Haha.

    Somehow, this reminded me of Sputnik Sweetheart (more lesbian action), and what will happen if it (relaxing for a second) actually happened. This completely explains (to my mind) the central mystery in that book! Awesome.

    I want to see the film adaptation na tuloy.

    Reply
  2. Mich Post author

    Hi Glenn! I haven’t read Sputnik Sweetheart yet, but I will–soon! Once I get through my already ridiculously long reading list. Actually I only remembered to reread Norwegian Wood after I chanced upon the trailer. I want to watch the movie too!

    Reply
  3. glenn

    Hehe. I once had a girl / Or should I say / she once had me? What a line. You should read Sputnik Sweetheart, more crazy people in love. I’m suddenly curious if Murakami pushed with that going to pieces business with Sputnik Sweetheart. Sorry mild spoiler.

    Reply
    1. Mich Post author

      Hi Micah. :) For a long time I couldn’t get Murakami (possibly until now). I recently vowed to reread Dance Dance Dance and Kafka on the Shore. And I haven’t even read After Dark yet!

      Reply
  4. Midori

    Hi! I just finished reading Norwegian Wood I borrowed from our school’s library. I just thought of sharing this note I found somewhere between the pages of this copy I borrowed.

    28 August 2010

    Somewhere in this world someone once rummaged through these pages as you are doing.

    Somewhere in this world I’ll think back and wonder whatever became of this book—and I’ll think of you.

    I’d remember to love you, if only for the briefest moment for getting this far, my favorite page.

    I hope you let it transform you. Don’t be afraid to take from it. Like good food, the best complement is an “empty” dish of a book for the authors.

    So take everything and live; live by what you learn and what you don’t learn.

    Write to your lover, listen to the ‘Norwegian Wood’. walk aimlessly though town once in a while, hold someone to sleep, throw happy funerals, remember those who ask to be remembered, pick up a book, clean up a yard, adopt a stray, love courageously.

    Maybe you could love me a little, even.

    -SLT

    I couldn’t understand the point of everything in the book, but sure it was an easy read. Took me about 18 hours (est) to finish this. I sure will reread this, and like what this note from SLT said, ‘Don’t be afraid to take from it. Like good food, the best complement is an “empty” dish of a book for the authors.’ I will not be afraid to take from it.

    I’m bookmarking your blog. I wish to know which of the books you’ve read are your favorites. :) I shall await for your reply.

    Reply
    1. Mich Post author

      Hello Midori. Thank you for the comment. It’s a nice experience, what you had, finding a note in between the pages of a library book. I wish it would happen to me too. Anyway, regarding your question, my favorite books (among the ones in this blog) are: A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, The Collapse of What Separates Us, The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go, Norwegian Wood, Life of Pi, and Interpreter of Maladies. :)

      Reply

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