What I said then:
A Japanese writer and a book named for a Beatles song? How could I resist?
What I say now:
Norwegian Wood is a book I'm having a bit of difficulty writing about. I suspect this will be an extremely unsatisfying blog post ... or at least, more unsatisfying than usual.
Because ... because ... well, because I absolutely loved Norwegian Wood but I'm not really sure why. There's nothing about it that stands out as being particularly brilliant, but it was brilliant. I can't point to anything in the plot, or the themes, or the style that vaults it above other books ... but it is better than other books.
Murakami is usually a bit insane; his other books include flying elephants, Johnnie Walker and Ronald McDonald appearing as a characters, men who can talk to cats, and other wacko things like that. This novel, being strictly realist, is very unusual within his fiction. In his thirties, Toru Watanabe hears a bad muzak version of the titular Beatles song and is immediately reminded of the first couple of years he spent at university in Tokyo in 1969 and 1970, and of the two women (girls, really) who fell into, out of, and back into his life. His romantic fumblings take place before a backdrop of political unrest and student activism, and is soundtracked by the music of its time. A Norwegian Wood playlist would make for fantastic listening.
I suppose the real genius of this novel is the way that Murakami is able to capture the confused moods of his protagonist. Watanabe doesn't know what he wants, or even who he really is, and I think most of us have, at some point, felt something similar. I won't go so far as to say that it's a universal experience, but during our teenage years, didn't most of us have moments when we felt that childhood had fallen away, but had no idea yet what the hell kind of adults we were going to turn into? I think most people can empathise with that, and Murakami absolutely nails it. There are aspects of Watanabe that are completely alien to me, but then there'll be one sentence that perfectly expresses a feeling I've had for ages but never been able to put into words. The hopeless way he falls in love and can't, for all his trying, express what he's feeling, is as familiar to me as I guess it will be to anybody who's lived and breathed.
There isn't really that much more that I can say, I'm afraid. At different moments it's funny, and tender, and beautiful, and ridiculous, and sad. But at every moment it's fucking great.
about to read: The Light of Day by Graham Swiftbooks to go: 105