fiction, review

Norwegian Wood

newest Indonesian edition’s cover

I wouldn’t say that it is not usual to get reeling back a little bit from encountering some new read, especially when you take a stab in the dark and randomly pick a book out of a bookstore. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami was definitely not my first “stab in the dark” experience, but it was unquestionably the most unforgettable. Set in 1969’s Japan, Norwegian Wood, in my opinion, is a story about uncertainty and youthful restlessness wrapped up in a sex-strewn narrative. The gloomy atmosphere circles around the three main characters, Toru Watanabe, Naoko, and Midori, who engage in an unconditional, triangle yet indistinct love interaction.

Told from 37-year-old Watanabe’s point of view, the story begins some 20 years after when he is about to land in Germany and suddenly his ears catch the instrumental of the song Norwegian Wood on the plane, dragging him ruthlessly back to his youth and first love. It saddens him to remember Naoko, for after all those years he can’t picture her in his mind quite clearly. But slowly his memory, and pain, take him back to where his love story takes place.

Watanabe first meets Naoko when he’s still in highschool and she is his only friend’s girl. Kizuki, that only friend of his, died of committing suicide. That leaves him and Naoko both alone, for they have no one else but Kizuki. Thenceforth, they forge closer ties. At their effort to be more opened to each other, Watanabe meets Midori, his mate in college who’s in love with him despite already having a boyfriend. Naoko’s beauty, and her fragile character, have swept Watanabe off his feet. His world then turns to focus on making Naoko his. Naoko, on the other hand, still loves Kizuki and can never forget him. Bewilderingly, Naoko can accept Watanabe sexually, something she cannot do with her own boyfriend. This, topped with Watanabe’s slowly developing love for Midori, complicate everything between them, sending them into a whirlwind of uncertainty, restlessness, and questions about love and commitment.

Watanabe is not portrayed as a hero, nor a type of leading character every reader would cherish. He is living a care free life, drinking and whoring, while Naoko is so introverted and her mentally fear and lack of desire for sexual intercourse lead her to question her own sanity. The two of them make an opposing, unmatch couple. Be that as it may, it is their respective nature which bind them together, inspite of the fact that Watanabe starts to have a feeling for Midori and Naoko cannot still forget Kizuki. Midori, conversely, is a lively girl, tomboy, aggressive and open. Her spirit matches to Watanabe’s character more than Naoko’s to his. In fact, Watanabe seems to feel at ease with Midori.

I guess, reading the whole book, Norwegian Wood is not only about love, sex, and lust—though I cannot help thinking so. It’s also about questioning ourselves: our feelings, our sanity, our identity, even our commitment. This book, more or less, shows that love and sex do not always go hand in hand. In fact, both things can go separate ways at times. This is what, I believe, the interactions among the main characters here imply. Murakami has interwoven fictional yet subtly real characters with a beautifully mind-wrecking narrative and served it on a plate of a lustful sad love story. His made-up plot is just packed and reasonable, making his ordinary sentences acceptable.

All in all, Norwegian Wood is not a book to pass nor forget. I cannot say that I enjoyed it. It’s just not to my liking, considering the heavy sex material. But this book is recommended to those who seek sensation out of a story, or a memorable read with a deep message to think about.

Rating: 3/5

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