For reasons I can’t fully explain, this book has always held talismanic powers for me. I’ve walked passed it numerous times in the book store, always intending to read it, but never buying it. Until, one day, I did. But then it sat on my shelf unread, collecting dust, and taking up space in a room infrequently visited but never entirely free of my interest.
I went on to read other Murakami books, and loved many of them. But Norwegian Wood has been a consistently lit, though dim, beacon in my literary aspirations. I don’t know what I thought it would mean to read this book, but it always felt like an accomplishment I wasn’t quite ready for.
My wife and I decided to not be on our phones as much around our kid. Every night, during settle down time, we put on cartoons for him and I grab a book. We’re hoping for some better behavior modelling for him as he’s getting older. This book, always present but never explored, seemed primed for a read. I’ve been able to read far less than I’ve been used to over the last couple years, so this’ll hopefully get me back on track to some degree.
And I’ve found it to be both uniquely accessible for a Murakami book, and also, unexpectedly, the most Murakami-est of all his books.
Set around 1970, Norwegian Wood follows a young man, Toru Watanabe, as he transitions into adulthood. He begins the novel as a 17 year old about to enter college, and it follows him through the next couple years of becoming an adult. It is this transition, this border between childhood and adulthood, that ties the whole book together. It is the latticework upon which the story was grown. Everyone is defined by their relation to this border.
His friends Kizuki and Naoko represent his youth, which is something he’s leaving behind. I think Nagasawa represents the transition itself: incapable of leaving behind his youthful irresponsibility, he is not less an active part of the adult world. Watanabe, not wanting to grow up but irresolutely a part of the forward progress of time, is both fascinated by Nagasawa and turned off by him. With the past and present taken care of, that leaves Midori and Reiko to represent adulthood. They are everything he is moving towards, they are his future; which is why he so reluctantly embraces them.
But an overlapping motif is life and death. Suicide is a frequent subject in this book, and it comes in the form of young adults who can’t make the transition. They choose to stay teenagers forever rather than growing up and leaving their youth behind them.
My favorite fan theory about Norwegian Wood can be found here, by the way. And, yes, there are spoilers.
I loved this book. More so, perhaps, than any other Murakami book. It’s one of those few moments where my expectations were fully met by the experience once lived. Ultimately, nothing more can be asked for.