*May Contain Spoilers*
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami is probably one of the strangest yet intriguing books I have ever read. Murakami utilizes a variety of themes to explore the love life and coming of age story of Toru. However, most of these themes are weighed down with the theme of death. As several characters in the novel commit suicide, I think Murakami uses the looming nature of death to highlight the difficulties of life.
Toru is the main character and the narrator of the novel. He's a young college student who is learning to navigate the world of love, sex, and being an adult. His young adulthood has been heavily influenced by the suicide of his best friend that occurred a few years earlier. When he reconnects with his deceased best friend's former girlfriend, Naoko, Toru falls in love with her but must help her and recognize that she struggles with depression and (perhaps) other mental illness.
Toru is a semi-likeable character as he's intelligent, morally guided overall, and mostly supportive of the few friends he has. I say 'mostly' because he does poke fun at his roommate and remains friends with a playboy, even participating in some one-night stands of his own. The main thing about Toru is that he is flawed so that makes him both relatable and influenced by the story's action. However, in that flawed nature, he isn't a very reliable narrator. He constantly doubts his memory which then transfers doubt to the reader. Within that doubt, readers still feel connected to Toru based on both his experiences and the emotions he evokes. Toru is a hopeful young man who is caught between a love of the past and a chance for love in the future.
The entire story is a told as a flashback, as Toru relives the days of knowing Naoko because he hears a cover of The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood." While Toru tells the story, he seems to get lost and the present becomes the memory while the past fully takes over. Though this book is interesting and pulls the reader in from the beginning, it is incredibly sad with no real conclusion. For as much emotional investment the book requires, it seems that the payoff would be bigger. Or at least, the conclusion more clear. Overall, I was dedicated to this book and kind of disappointed with how it ended. I almost felt like I was being punished for making it to the end. I wouldn't recommend this book to everyone and definitely not just anyone. In terms of literature, this book is interesting in the way it presents Westernization and cultural influences. However, I don't think everyone would be a fan. It's a book that requires contemplation and analysis to even begin to unpack everything that Murakami tackles.
Rating: 3/5 Cups