Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
This story follows teens Naoko and Toru. What seemed from the outset to be a romantic story turned into a tragic rollercoaster, filled with suicide.
Sadness is a very complicated emotion. It has the ability of dissolving the edges of reality surrounding you and immersing you completely in an alternate world, where only you and that feeling exist together in complete harmony. And nothing else matters. You luxuriate in the richness of its beauty and marvel at the tranquility it offers you.
Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood evokes exactly similar kind of emotions in the reader.
There are some books you read, which leave you with stories-bitter, exciting, adrenaline-driven, romantic, depressing or grisly. And then there are books which leave you with feelings. Norwegian Wood, most definitely, belongs to the second category.
And in my opinion, it is infinitely easier to deconstruct a story in a review rather than the feeling it leaves you with. But here's an attempt anyway.
This is a beautifully crafted, sombre but incredibly sensual tale of unfulfilled love where the central characters are, in all essence, broken individuals.
In a most indolent manner, the book begins with our narrator Toru Watanabe, catching the strains of an orchestral version of The Beatles' 'Norwegian wood' on a flight to Hamburg and beginning to reminisce about a certain girl named Naoko, from the days of his youth in Tokyo. From hereon, the story is told as a flashback, as a sliver of memory that the 37-year old Toru has carefully preserved or perhaps is struggling not to forget.
Majorly the story revolves around the trials and tribulations of the 3 key characters - Toru, Naoko and Midori.
Toru, a reserved young college student, is shown to be somewhat anti-social, not quite opening up to others as easily as others open up to him. There is a sense of profound sadness about him hidden skilfully under a veneer of indifference, probably arising out of the loss of his childhood friend Kizuki, who committed suicide at 17. While Naoko, Kizuki's first and only girlfriend, is a beautiful and emotionally fragile being who has been unable to grapple with the tragedy of Kizuki's untimely death. Still in mourning, bound by a mutual feeling of isolation, Toru and Naoko, forge an unnatural connection of sorts, when they cross each other's paths years later in Tokyo. Toru falls in love right away and even she feels something love-like for him, but sadly enough it is not enough to heal them both. Soon the emotionally unstable Naoko recedes to a sanatorium in mountainous Kyoto while Toru tries to continue with his life as an unremarkable university student, seeking comfort in sleeping with random women. In Naoko's continued absence from his life, he makes friends with the bright, sassy, sexually liberated Midori Kobayashi, who has had her fair share of tragedies too but still manages to be optimistic. An unlikely friendship with Midori, helps dissipate some of the darkness in Toru's life but he is still unable to get Naoko off his mind and keeps writing her letters irrespective of whether she sends a reply or not. The rest of the book details Toru's dilemma as he is torn between these two women, never too sure of whether to shun his troubled past and embrace reality as it comes or keep waiting for Naoko to fully recover from her festering psychological wounds.
Written in a lucid language, the book is full of metaphors usually represented by the description of natural scenery. Murakami's obsession with western classics and music is reflected in the countless references to Beatles numbers like "Yesterday", "Michelle", "Something", Bach, Mozart, Scarlatti and literary works of Joseph Conrad, Fitzgerald, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx and so on.
The brief overview of the plot does not, in any way, do justice to the story. For a book like Norwegian Wood cannot be summarized.
It is about human relationships which cannot be given a name or a clear definition. It is about the ghastly spectre of death and the way the people who are no longer with us, sometimes leave us in a permanent state of damage. It is about friendship and love and sexuality. And most important of all, it is about sadness. In its cruelest yet most beautiful form. The inherent dreariness of the book gets to you at some point or the other, but Murakami's compelling story-telling ways, make sure you keep reading till the very end.