Since Murakami released his critically acclaimed novel ‘A Wild Sheep Chase’ in 1982, his works have exploded into fame. Described as a surrealistic Japanese author, his work differs from other Japanese novelists by his unusual writing style: writing in English prose even in the novel’s original language. Since then, Murakami has released a series of renowned successes. ‘Norwegian Wood’, with more than four million copies sold in Japan alone since the book was released, and a feature film, ‘Norwegian Wood’ is one of these international successes. With statistics that high, there must be something about the novel that makes it so popular. This was why I decided to read the novel, and was not disappointed.
The novel describes how the protagonist Toru and Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend who committed suicide, are connected by their recovery from the deep sadness that they both share. Naoko interprets the famous Beatles song ‘Norwegian Wood’ as wandering in a lonely, deep and dark wood with nobody to save her, based on her own personal experience of mental illness. This ideology is the central theme for the novel, as through a whirlwind series of events it circulates around three major themes: the unpredictable nature of growing up, and the experiences of loss and love that are interconnected with it.
Whilst dealing with the entanglement of realistic events with the fantastical and confusing events of growing up, Murakami handles the complicated nature of sorrow and dealing with the pain that comes with it. Murakami describes how through cultural ignorance of death, the characters cannot come to natural terms with their grief and heal themselves, and so they turn to others, hoping that they can fix their despair. In the novel Murakami cleverly describes characters’ ailments through metaphors in order to better describe such complicated conditions, such as Naoko’s depression being described as a deep well in the wood, that she may fall down and never be able to climb up from. What I really enjoyed about ‘Norwegian Wood’ was how the characters are given the chance of rebirth, although it is left ambiguous whether the characters clasp this chance or not, leaving it up to the reader’s imagination.
‘Norwegian Wood’ is often referenced to as a romantic and contemporary piece of Japanese literature, however the themes of this novel could be interpreted as psychological or fantasy, even including aspects of historical relevance to the turbulence of Japanese society in the 60s. The novel combines Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’, with its melancholic tones dealing with the difficult nature of mental illness, with the metaphorical writing style of J D Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ to create a perfect amalgamation of fantasy and realism. With Murakami releasing increasing amounts of influential and popular work such as the recent release of ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage’, I would definitely recommend Murakami’s novels to anyone so they do not miss out on such beautiful works of literature.