Review: Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
2 of 5 stars

I recently read Norwegian Wood and was plagued with a sense of nostalgia. Others have remarked that Murakami’s a master at nostalgic scenes, and while that may be true, it turned out that it wasn’t the cause of my particular case of it. I had actually read the novel a few years before! I could tell that I read certain passages before, but I couldn’t pin down how the story ended. Maybe it’s because nothing really happens.

No wait, something happens. A few things happen. But I still think nothing happens because the characters living in Norwegian Wood never mature or change. Naoko and Toru both are so meandering and so damned introspective that I found them to be total bores, which is unfortunate because they and their relationship is what the novel is about.

I have no doubt that Murakami is an excellent storyteller and his prose (at least, what gets across through the translation) does have a certain poetic quality to it. The descriptions of scenes painted a very vivid picture of Japan. The problem was, I kept getting tripped up by the dialogue.

The characters are painfully self-aware to the point that the dialogue feels too artificial. No one is brutally honest about their feelings in dialogue like they are. The frustrating part is that while the characters love talking about their emotions and their deepest doubts, none of them actually take any action regarding those feelings. Maybe if they stopped obsessing and talking about their feelings and actually did something about them, they wouldn’t be in the rut they’re in.

Even if the dialogue were more natural, I’d still dislike the novel because of one thing: Naoko. It’s a crucial point since the novel revolves around her and her inability to cope with the ups and downs, (okay, mostly the downs) of life. She comes off as neurotic, unpleasant, and useless, which is why I had such a hard time dealing with the fact that Toru was in love with her. I guess I don’t care for helpless female characters. I was relieved when she finally took matters into her own hands instead of just hanging around and bringing everyone down.

On the other hand, I really liked Midori, who seems to be one of the few characters in Norwegian Wood that has her shit together. The contrast between her personality and that of Toru or Naoko was so great that the more I read about her, the more I got frustrated with Toru and Naoko’s pathetic one-sided relationship. I guess in that way, Murakami wrote a splendid recount of the turmoil of a love triangle.

After reading Norwegian Wood for the second time, I’m still ambivalent about Murakami’s writing. On the one hand, he’s a decent writer and I can see people liking his style. On the other hand, the actual subjects he writes about are so flawed that I end up despising them. I guess I can’t really deal with aimless characters who fall for aimless girls for no reason. I just don’t feel the same sense of satisfaction I get after reading a book I genuinely enjoyed reading.

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