Title: Norwegian Wood
Author: Haruki Murakami
Genre: Adult Fiction
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐/5
Trigger warning: suicide
Norwegian Wood is a coming of age story following Toru Watanabe through his first years of college, and his relationships with Naoko, who is presented from the beginning as someone he promised he would always remember. They are linked together through one of their friends, who has passed away, which has both reinforced their relationship and made Naoko more fragile. As she spirals down, Watanabe finds himself growing closer to others in ways he didn’t really expect.
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
To be honest, I had mixed feelings about this book. I wanted to like it because it was recommended to me by a friend, and at first, I really did. In some parts, it really struck me how deeply human it felt. The characters are very realistic, with both qualities and flaws, they make mistakes and know when to acknowledge. As this is mostly a coming of age story, this felt really realistic and relatable.
But the things is, some parts really rubbed me the wrong way, whether the discourse surrounding sex – which I totally wasn’t expecting to be so present and graphic – or the representation of mental illness. I do appreciate the fact that Naoko’s portrayal seemed rather accurate, but at the same time, I’m not sure what to make of the treatment the other characters gave her. For example, the use of the term “crazy” by Reiko really made me uncomfortable as well as some other things concerning both mental illness and suicide.
The sex/rape scene between Reiko and her “rotten” student also made me feel super uncomfortable, like, it was super disturbing and I didn’t see the point of including this girl’s character in the story (like, please, if you’re going to include a gorgeous lesbian in your book, could you make it in a non disturbing way? Thanks.)
Overall, this book is cleverly crafted, it’s soft and slow-paced and I really enjoyed that aspect of it. It was a beautiful character-driven story. However, there were a few things that made me uncomfortable in the way mental illness was addressed. I also felt that the story was really dragging by the end, and the ending itself was rather underwhelming. So in the end, I was not sold. It was my first Murakami book, though, and I will definitely be checking out some of his other works!
Thanks for reading this far, and feel free to share your opinion on Norwegian Wood, or recommend any other of his works!