Do you remember how deep and raw everything used to be in high school? Nobody understood, everything was serious and life seemed pretty bleak. No, I wasn’t an existentialist. I was just your average kid listening to Wonderwall on repeat and secretly reveling in life’s little twists and turns. I credit the 90’s for the shift from the peppy teenage brooding fueled by the power ballads of the 80’s to the sparkly vegetarian vampire adorations of today. Gotta love the moody broody rock.
I think I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that Norwegian Wood would have gone tremendously well with the aforementioned moody broody rock and my general teenage angst, mostly because it doesn’t dwell on innovative plots but chooses to focus instead on thoughts and emotions. And Lord knows I was full to the brink of both of them.
Before we dive in, I need to tell you what the book is called in Japanese. Noruwei No Mori. How beautiful is that? Mori technically means forest and it’s an ever present motif in the book. And if you follow me on Instagram, you know by now that I love a good tree. This book and I were meant to be!
The book is narrated by Toru Watanabe, an older businessman, whom hears Norwegian Wood by The Beatles playing and gets taken back to his student years and the two women he loved, Midori and Naoko. The former was a fellow student, vivacious and full of life, while the later was a tragic childhood friend who was trying to come to terms with the suicide of her boyfriend who was also Toru’s friend. It is, in short, a bildungsroman i.e. it’s all about the journey, not the destination. I love the way stream of consciousness reads and, when done well, I get completely immersed in a book.
Death haunts the novel. This is not a lighthearted read so if that’s what you’re looking for then just pick up a James Patterson book. There are constant references made to depression by using the well imagery and the novel seems to be in a constant state of winter – frozen and white. There are several suicides in the book and you wrestle with the idea of someone being eternally stuck at a certain age. We are a population obsessed with youth and with those whom can conserve it forever in the public conscience – James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Cobain. They become romantic, emblematic and infallible.
I’m not going to discuss characters in depth because I somehow feel invested in them, like I know them. It would be like discussing the inner most thoughts and confidences made by friends. Most of the brilliance of the book is in the narrative which, like the title, is pure poetry in prose form that you not so much read as you experience. You remember what it is like to grow up, to deal with guilt, to let go and to accept death.
I think it’s Toru’s definitive life experience, a time that propelled him into adulthood but that has left him with a never-ending stream of questions and what ifs. I’m at an age stuck in-between the 2 versions of the narrator. I am nostalgic and yet still misunderstood, I aspire to know more yet I’m constantly uncertain. I think what you get from the book is different depending at what stage of life you are so keep it and revisit it. That’s what I plan to do.
I give this book 5 out of 5 Storm Troopers.
PS: Check out The Beatles song with the same name!