Tuesday 10 January 2012

Norwegian Wood Readalong Post One

I was excited about starting Norwegian Wood for Reading Rambo's Readalong. Murakami's style is kind of similar to Kazuo Ishiguro's, and he's one of my favourite authors. People warned me that I wouldn't be able to only read four chapters for this week's section, and they were half right. I did manage to only read the first four chapters, but I literally had to force myself to shut the book, put it down and in a different room...

I am a big fan of Kazuo Ishiguro, and stylistically at least, Norwegian Wood is quite similar. It's incredibly immersive. So far, the basic story is thus:

As the novel opens, 37 year old Toru Watanabe is on board a plane about to land in Germany when he hears Norwegian Wood by the Beatles. It takes him back to his college days, and the strange relationship he had with Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend. In their hometown, Toru and Naoko are both victims of a tragedy which affects both their relationship, and the rest of their lives. A little later while at University in Tokyo, they accidentally meet again and rekindle their uneasy friendship. It's unclear what are the boundaries of the relationship between them, and just when Toru begins to try to find out, Naoko vanishes. Following her disappearance, Toru meets Midori, a girl without much of a family who plays the guitar terribly.. By the point at which I forced myself to stop, Toru and Midori have had a date during which they watched a house burn while Midori played the guitar, and he hasn't seen her since. He has, however, managed to have a very early morning encounter with two strange girls, and has just got home from spending the night with one of them, to find a letter from Naoko...

I really, really, really wanted to know what was in the letter. It was actually physically difficult to stop myself from turning the next page. Norwegian Wood didn't immediately grab me - I struggled with the first couple of pages, but once the story got going, it really got going! It is told solely from Toru's perspective, and despite his confusion and inconsistency, I like him. He feels like a very honest narrator to me, and I know this will probably come back to bite me and he'll turn out to be like a fifty year old, serial killing woman or something (if he does, this book is totally not what I think it is...), but I like that he doesn't try to hide the fact that he goes from Naoko to Midori to finding random girls to sleep with, and his confusion about all of his various situations are always made very clear. I would love to be able to read Norwegian Wood in the original Japanese, rather than in translation, but as I'm notoriously crap at learning languages, I don't see that happening any time soon. However, even in translation the language is very clear and precise. As a reader I'm not particularly a fan of having to decipher loads of cryptic prose - although I have been known to do it I really do have to be in the mood for it, I'm very much a fan of clarity, and Norwegian Wood has it by the bucketload so far.

However, it also has just the right level of mystery in the plot to keep me totally engrossed. I want to know what's going on with Naoko, where Midori keeps disappearing to, not to mention whether or not Toru will actually ever sort himself out or not...Basically, I love the book, and I know that I'm going to find it difficult to impossible to stop reading again after next weeks' segment.

I'll have to wait until I finish to be sure, but I'm fairly sure I've found a new author...


  1. "I really, really, really wanted to know what was in the letter."

    Right?? I read "A special delivery letter was waiting for me in the mailbox by the entry. It was from Naoko" this morning right before posting and was like "DAMNIT." The other chapters didn't end on cliffhangers like that. But, of course, now that people've posted, chapter 5 can be read. ;) So that's exciting.

    I find that I'm alternating a lot between loving it and being bored to death. But again, the latter is pretty much just in the parts with Naoko. When he gets detailed in his scenic descriptions, I LOVE it. But I'm not sure I'll be reading more of his novels after this one. We shall see.

  2. Midori DOES play guitar terribly...and sing terribly. I kind of love that about her.

    I didn't have much trouble putting the book down after Chapter 4. I think the angst stressed me out enough to make me glad for a break. I've decided that I never get far enough away from high school/early college/doomed relationships to stop identifying with those who are still there. All the memories come rushing back and make me feel like crying in the shower. I no likey.

  3. I'm off to a slow start with this readalong, but I'm going to gamely catch up for next week. I'm torn between enjoying the modern day Toru reminisce about his past and then actually reading about it, which I'm finding less than enthralling. But I have high hopes once I get past chapter 2.

    *new follower*