Tuesday 10 January 2012

Norwegian Wood, Chapters 1-4

You'd think that, since Murakami takes 110 pages to write 4 chapters, that I wouldn't necessarily massively appreciate Norwegian Wood (I don't have the attention span to deal with long chapters. Seriously.) And if you thought that (and, let's face it, that's entirely what I thought) then HAHA you would be WRONG! Because, even though I read it seriously late last night (in spite of all my readalong excitement, I managed to sort of forget to actually read the book...) I found it difficult to stop, at 1am, at the end of chapter 4. So yeah, I sort of liked it, and I think I might be well on my way to loving it.

Interestingly, I didn't think the first chapter was really all that. Sure, there were some interesting ruminations about the nature of memory, and I wanted to learn more about Toru and Naoko's relationship, but on the whole I was sort of like 'meh...' and kind of indifferent to the whole thing. That is, until the very very interesting revelation near the end of chapter two, when we find out that Toru's best friend, and Naoko's boyfriend, killed himself a year ago; because to me, that changed everything. Everything that I was thinking about these characters was promptly blown away by knowing this one fact, and this was a genuine turning point in the book for me- I could practically feel my brain straightening up in its seat and going 'alright... well this could really be something', and, you know what, I kind of still think that it is.

And now let me talk about Midori because she's really super awesome! I don't know if it's just because I didn't really like Naoko- which, trust me, I don't feel good about because she's super grieving and all, but she seriously tires me and makes me want to sigh a lot- but Midori just seems so vibrant and amazing and different, albeit a tiny bit sociopathic. But, the thing is, she makes Toru feel alive again, I think, and generally gives him things to do and think about which, by himself, he's not so great at. Also, she has an awesome face:
"A fresh and physical life force surged from the girl who sat before me now. She was like a small animal that has popped into the world with the coming of spring. Her eyes moved like an independent organism with joy, laughter, anger, amazement and despair. I hadn't seen a face so vivid and expressive in ages, and I enjoyed watching it live and more."
See? Midori's clearly awesome, and she can surely only get awesomer. Probably.

Moving on... While I think there are a lot of themes and stuff explored even just in this first section of the book, the overriding one at the moment seems to basically be death, or more specifically, what death means to the people left behind. Toru has had to deal with the death of his best friend at a horribly young age, and while he misses him, what his death has also done is bring home the reality of how close death really is at any time, and also how meaningless life can seem because of this. What I think this has done is made Toru really passive- things just happen to him, rather than him doing anything to make them happen, which is not necessarily the best way to live one's life. The same goes for Naoko, only even more so, and this passivity and inability to deal with what's happened has basically, although not said in so many words, put her in a mental hospital. Sad times. And then there's Midori, whose mother has died and father has run off, and yet she remains so vibrant and alive, and so so dynamic- she makes things happen to her, and so I think we have to admire her. That's not to say that she's completely untouched by the things that have happened (she has that whole insomnia thing going on) but she carries on nonetheless, and for that I adore her.

So, already, I'm fully hooked. I want to know what's going to happen to everyone, and I really really want to know what's in that letter from Naoko! I thought that, since this is a book by a Japanese writer, set in Japan, I would feel a little bit out of my depth and overcome with strangeness, but amazingly this didn't at all happen- I think what Murakami is writing about is so universal that everyone can relate, regardless of setting. At points, in fact, I was pretty much imagining his university campus as my own University campus, something which I don't think is to do with my lack of imagination, but rather to do with the fact that I can relate, and that this could just as easily be my story. Or possibly I lack imagination. Shut up. Anyway, basically, YAY Norwegian Wood (I've been listening to that song a bit lately, and actually, it is pretty great. Naoko may be crazy, but she has pretty good taste). I can't wait for the next two chapters!


  1. I completely LOVED this book! And yes, Midori gets awesomer and awesomer.

  2. YAY! I'm so glad to hear that :)

  3. Well look at your cover bein' all different from ours. ;) And dude, I've had Norwegian Wood stuck in my head for an annoyingly long time.

    Their dorm system is different from the UK's though, right? Because they seem to have this weird dorm complex for all universities, whereas at our schools, they each have their own on their campus.

    What I think's kind of cool is how yeah, it starts out and you're like "Ok, boy, girl, gotcha," and then he keeps revealing information which makes you reinterpret their characters.

    Also, embarrassing, I forgot his name was Toru. Because it's neeever mentioned after like chapter 1. Or if it is I ignored it. Oops.

  4. That technically isn't even the cover I've got! Mine is a movie one (Bluergh) and I think that one is the first English one so yeah. I gots to be special, you know?
    Their dorm system is fully different to ours, although I don't know what dorms are like in London, where there is more than one University... I dunno. But it's still like communal living, it's all the same etc etc.
    And yay the reinterpreting of characters. It's sort of awesome with the 'why are they even hanging out?' and then the 'oh, that's why', and then the 'hmmm...'
    I totally only know his name is Toru because its on the back of my book. Otherwise I probably would have just called him 'that guy', which wouldn't have been great.

    I don't think we're going to be able to mock this like we did with The Help. Which at once makes me do both this face :(, and this face :D. Confusing.

  5. Midori is my favoritest. She made this book for me.

    I love the idea that Toru dealing with his friend's death at such a young age made him so passive. Because there were many times I wanted to be like "OK Toru, do something. Anything. Please" but I hadn't considered this. I still wan to poke him but at least now there's method to his madness

  6. Midori is amazing. I'm just hoping she doesn't do something annoying to make me hate her! I know what you mean about wanting to poke Toru, but I just have so much sympathy for his whole facing death thing and his depression- I mean, most people just have to face up to the fact of death when they're like 50, or after their first heart attack or something; not because their best friend has killed himself aged 17. Just sayin' (also I know it's not real. Because this comment totally makes it sound like I think it is...)

  7. I keep forgetting about his dead friend. I'm very much into the whole 'yes yes, that happened, now we move on' school of thought, so keeping in mind that his death is still a huge part of their lives is difficult.

  8. I'm really glad you're enjoying it so far. I had to read chapter four this morning before I could start my post so I'm a little behind in getting around.

    Yes, Midori is amazing and a real breath of fresh air when she finally shows up. And she kind of makes Toru open up a bit as a character and he starts to take on more dimension.

    Also, chapter five is, like, 75 pages or something. Talk about long chapters...

  9. You're SO right about the writing and setting being accessible for us non-Japanese readers. When Toru was describing the ritual raising of the flag and playing of the anthem at his dorm, I didn't realize I was subconsciously picturing the American flag and hearing the American anthem until he called the flag "the Rising Sun." And a lot of the music they listen to is American...and the books he reads are American. Maybe that's a commentary in itself, on America's infiltration of worldwide culture. Huh.

  10. @Reading Rambo- I'm of the 'imagine if this happened in real life' school of thought, so I'm all about the thinking 'Poor Toru!' Although it does kiiind of sound like he's been all anti-social and non-people-y his whole life, BUT he still had things that he did, and now he doesn't even have that.

    @brooks- 75 PAGES?! This book may kill me. Except that I kind of love it, so I'll probably just hug it and stuff :)

    @Megs- I way didn't relate to the raising of the flag thing, cause we don't really do that here- but so many other things I just had to remind myself that this was set in Japan (except for where he took his shoes off at Midori's house, and I was like 'oh yeahhhh, that's a Japanese thing' because, well, I don't know massive amounts about Japan...) I read somewhere, probably on Alice's blog, that Murakami wasn't popular in Japan for ages because of all the Western cultural references he put in his novels, so I kind of think that Murakami just kind of likes all the stuff he writes about... Maybe.

  11. It's been so fun reading everybody's comments and a relief that I wasn't the only one who, after two chapters, wasn't feeling in love with this novel.

  12. I think the consensus is that we all think that Midori kick's ass. Unfortunately I haven't grown that attached to any of the characters. The writing is beautiful but there's a certain amount of emotion lacking for me, which I find interesting because if I'm not mistaken generally Japanese emotion is kept hidden?

  13. I'm also excited to see what's in Naoko's letter! I hope it's not some more musings on that really, really deep well.

    Enjoy chapters 5 & 6!

  14. @Christina- I think that's true, and in that case, I sort of think, well fair enough- at least this book is kind of accurate in that regard- I feel like Midori's actually the exception, and maybe the reason we like her so much is because she's much more open in what she says and does, and in that is more typically Western...

    @Rayna- Oh god NO! Maybe she's cheered up a bit...

  15. I'm happy to hear you are enjoying it! Midori is bananas and I love her.

  16. Hi there, late to the party this week... I'm glad you're digging it so far. I'm not so hot on it yet, but I could possibly be convinced. We'll see how the next chapters go.

    You have a really good point about it being relatable - while I can't really relate to Naoko & Toru so much, the story doesn't really feel distant. The setting feels very real, and Midori definitely brings a certain "oomph" to everything. I can't wait to read more about her.

    1. Yay Midori! I definitely felt like this literally could have been set like ten minutes down the road from me, but I think the kind of westernisation thing is a trademark of Murakami's writing, and also something that he's been criticised for in the past. But it's good for us, I think! Hopefully the rest of the book will start to pick up for you! (Having said that, I think the next two chapters are all about Naoko. To which I say mluergh!)