Haruki Murakami. Just writing those words evokes so many feelings and ideas. Readers in Japan treat his release dates similar to the release of each new Harry Potter novel, lining up outside bookshops at midnight. He’s a BIG DEAL. And he pissed me off.
Norwegian Wood follows, Toru, a young man going to college in Tokyo who is dealing with the aftermath of his best friend’s suicide. He weaves in and out of relationships with various women, including Naoko, the ex-girlfriend of said best friend, and Midori, a vibrant fellow college student who’s dealing with her own loses.
And that’s pretty much it. Murakami’s only straightforward and traditionally plotted novel was written merely as an experiment to see whether or not he could do such a thing. At best, it’s a beautifully written character study and exploration through the mind. At worst, it’s an ass-backwards misogynistic romp led by literature’s most boring male protagonists of the all times.
First things first, I loved the writing something fierce, and I can’t wait to explore Murakami’s other works no matter how problematic his gender renderings can be. I loved Naoko and Midori both as strong, yet different, female characters. Naoko’s internal emotional and psychological struggles were realistically drawn. Midori, my favorite character, was full of life: bright, bold, brash, and beyond clever. Unfortunately, Murakami couldn’t just leave it at that.
Instead, we see these amazing women and many more of Tokyo’s young female population tremble and succumb to Toru’s irresistible sexual force. All of the women in this novel sleep with Toru. All of them. And for what reason? I can’t find a single damn one. He’s dull, without personality, and barely even speaks to them half the time. He’s no James Bond, that’s for sure. Even Naoko, who was never even able to sleep with the supposed love of her life, gives in to Toru during a particularly emotional scene, and I ain’t buying that. AT ALL.
I’ve heard this kind of ridiculousness continues in Murakami’s other endeavors, and that worries me. But I’m willing to push onward on the strength of his writing. After all, if Toru had disappeared from Norwegian Wood’s narrative (or even just the sex), the book would have been fabulous. And I like sex as long as it makes sense and serves a purpose. The only purpose I found here was a male writer’s wish fulfillment. Oh well.
11 thoughts on “Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami”
I want to read some Murakami and have already bought this very title. I can’t wait to see whether I agree with you or not!
I, too, look forward to your assessment, Sam!
I’ve read it, and I didn’t even notice that indeed the women were all too excited about Toru. I just finished reading a different book by Murakami, and at least there not every woman wanted to sleep with the narrator 🙂 so not all of his books have the same problem. 🙂
That’s refreshing to hear. I was a bit worried.
I loved Murakami’s 1Q84 and have been reading to read some more of his stuff. This one sounds totally different than 1Q84, though, and maybe not the Murakami I’m looking for.
I think if you LOVE Murakami outside of NW, you probably won’t love NW. But I could be very wrong.
I also loved 1Q84, so even though I’ve heard bad things about Murakami’s treatment of women, I’ll definitely be giving some of his other books a chance 🙂
I’m giving them a chance as well!! One bad egg doesn’t discount a huge body of work, after all.
The first and second book I read from Murakami were Kafka on the shore, and 1Q84. After I read the first book, I immediately fell in love with his style and the whole story in general. My third book was Norwegian Wood, and I was quite disappointed. It wasn’t as magical and dream-like as the other books, and I disliked every character except of Midori. The fourth book I read was South of the Border West of the sun. This was very thin, but rather similar to Norwegian Wood. The one I read recently was Sputnik Sweetheart, and this was a bit better. It actually was quite similar to the first 2 ones I read. I think that usual guy in Murakami’s books is not a bad thing. Sometimes the male protagoist doesn’t have to be special I think. It is rather very often that the female protagonist has a special ability or characteristic. So I don’t think that Murakami is sexist or something like that
I definitely don’t think the protagonist HAS to be special, but when all of the girls he meets sleep with him, no matter who they are or how they are connected to him, something feels off to me. I just didn’t understand why all these smart women couldn’t just be smart women, but had to also sleep with this boring ass dude I couldn’t imagine any of them sleeping with in real life.
Maybe, it is the same in real life. The women may be smart, but I think many are desperate for sex, because even the smart women can be overseen by the interesting men. So, they go with the simple, easier ones. Although Murakami’s books have many fantastic elements, Norwegian Wood was indeed a simple story, with a simple protagonist. I agree with that. But I think he always tries to weigh it out: the simple protagonist against the complex plot (which can’t really be said about NW, but indeed about his other stories).