Title: Norwegian Wood
Original Writer (Japanese) : Haruki Murakami
Translated to English by: Alfred BirnBaum
Originally Published in Japanese: 1987
Translated to English: 2000
My Rating: 2 on 5
Regular readers of this blog know that I have signed up for Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge and I read my first Murakami book After Dark as part of this challenge and also that I was thoroughly impressed with the book. Ever since I read that book, I have been itching to lay my hands on any of the other Murakami books and it was only natural that I chose one of his most popular books, Norwegian Wood.
Norwegian Wood is about Toru Watanabe and Naoko who are bound together by the death of a common friend, Kizuki. Toru learns to deal with the grief of his best friend whereas Naoko becomes emotionally unstable after her boyfriend’s death. Toru continues his study at the college and Naoko goes to a sanatorium to deal with her emotional instability. Toru has his group of friends and goes on with his life and continues to exchange letters with Naoko. Their relationship is uncertain and strange because they act like lovers but neither wants to admit it.
The trouble with reading a popular book is you would have built high expectations before you even read the first word. If the book turns out to be good, then all is well, but in my case, more often than not, a popular book fails to impress me. Sadly, Norwegian Wood falls under the second category. The book has this monotonous voice which is depressing, which is right considering this book is about dealing with death and grief, but what irritates me is how the characters behave sometimes. Toru and Naoko and the other characters are in their late teens or early twenties and they act as if they know the world and give out intellectual insights which make me cringe.
I am not sure if it’s the original text or the translation, but the writing is really poor and amateur. There are places where you want to tell the writer, forget what she is wearing and move on with the story already! Toru and Naoko are supposed to be having a very intimate conversation when Toru visits the sanatorium. He is seeing her for the first time after she vanished a couple of months back and he really wants to know how she is doing emotionally. When the scene has this emotional momentum going, does it really matter whether Naoko slid the clip off her hair or if she transferred it from the right hand to the left? The captivating, surreal tone which I liked the most about After Dark is non-existent in Norwegian Wood. Both the books are so different, it makes me wonder if they really have the same author. If I hadn’t known this was a Murakami book, I would have never guessed!
The ending is very predictable and left me wondering what the point of the book was. This vaguely reminds me of Catcher in the Rye, another over-hyped book which I just could not stand. There might be a message hidden for me underneath: do not read popular books! I plan to pick up The Hard-boiled Wonderland and End of the World next.