I was very excited to start this modern classic, primarily due to Sophie’s recommendation and the response I got from the Instagram community intrigued me further. The initial impression of the book made me happy, it took me back to reading This Side of Paradise and Amory’s life and of Holden from the Catcher in the Rye. It would be unfair to compare this to those novels of course and therefore I will only (try to) explain the reasons why the three texts resonated with me.
Norwegian Wood is definitely the darkest of the three novels. Even so I ‘wood’ definitely recommend this book to anyone; it is a tale of love and loss. Toru has a very difficult time, the losses he suffers and the pain he feels is very much understandable given the circumstances. As to whether you think Toru is truly happy at the end, I feel that the reader must make their own decision in that regard. After becoming quite attached to Toru and his personality I would like to think he has found happiness now.
Without speaking too much of the plot I will try and explain what it is about, I don’t want to leak any spoilers for those who have not yet read, so I apologise if I ruin any part for you. The story is set in Japan, Tokyo mostly, there are few characters in the novel however those present are very well rounded and very much likeable for their individual traits. The main character is Toru Watanabe who is considered a bit of an outcast, his reasoning for this is his love of European literature, in particularly F Scott Fitzgerald which sets him apart from the others in the dorm he shares. It would be a cruel misrepresentation to say that Toru has a nice happy tale to tell, his story is somewhat depressing and at times made me reflect on my own situation and how great I have got it. I however think I would be friends with Toru, a lover of Fitzgerald and a loner, similar to myself in many ways, though I am much cooler (obviously).
There are a few love interests for Toru, some meaningless however three relationships which would definitely be given an ‘it’s complicated’ status on Facebook. The friends and lovers, both past and present, have a massive impact on Toru’s morale though his love toward them differs in different ways. The story is his tale of his first two years of University in Tokyo and the people he meets along the way. After a tragic incident in his hometown takes the life of his best friend he decides to leave and clear his head by leading a new life in Tokyo away from the previous memories until his best friend’s girlfriend, Naoko, follows him unknowingly and they meet out of pure coincidence. They then find comfort in each other’s intellect and decide to meet up as a kind of counselling for both of them, though his love for Naoko changes. He doesn’t see her as his best friend’s ex-girlfriend but as a comfortable partner and his heart goes out to her.
When however she abandons him he feels lost and finds the love of another girl, Midori, who brings out the more adventurous and fun side of Toru as well as the downs. He really likes Midori but cannot bring himself to forget Naoko and the difficulty for him is what he should do, what is morally right and what he feels he should do.
His best friend at University, Nagasawa, gives him an outlet to forget though his actions usually come back to hit him hardest, in his heart. Nagasawa is definitely the most annoying character and for me the hardest to relate to. He doesn’t seem to care about who he hurts and who gets in his way though he is refreshingly relaxing compared to the other more uptight and worrisome characters in the book.
I realise I have not really discussed why I felt that this novel reminded me of This Side of Paradise and The Catcher in the Rye but I think it is hard to explain if you haven’t read it, at one point Toru is accused of talking like Holden which had crossed my mind but Toru is a much more likable character though.
I feel like I may be rambling a little bit so I will depart on this, when I finished this book I was upset, not crying but upset. I was also happy for Toru, I wanted him to be happy after everything that happens to him but I could help feeling sorry for him, being the same age as him and comparing my happy life to his is upsetting. There are few books that make me feel the way I did when reading this and I would read again in a heartbeat.
I am happy that I enjoyed this so much as Sophie recommended it to me and after I told her I didn’t like ‘We’re all Completely beside Ourselves’ by Karen Joy Fowler and though she accepted it she was confused and tried to make me see her side but I wasn’t having any of it. At least now we both have this in common.