There is this weird phenomenon that happens sometimes, where you pine for a book for weeks and weeks, reading reviews, basking in all the praise and adulation said book has received, and dreaming of the day you will finally get to read this book. And then, when it is finally in your anxious little hands…it is nothing at all like what you hoped it would be.
Such is the case with me and Norwegian Wood.
So it’s 1969, and everyone’s angsting really hard, and we the readers follow the sexual exploits of one Toru Watanabe, a college student in Tokyo who has some Serious Emotional Baggage. Said Baggage is of a rather heavy nature, and hinders his decision-making abilities in the face of a blossoming romance.
But summarizing the book like that makes it sound kind of raunchy and more than a little gross, and it’s not. Erotic, definitely, but not gross. I will make no bone(r)s about it: sexytimes abound in this novel. There is no shortage of that. But at the same time, there’s also a lot of tenderness.
Only problem is, I didn’t feel it—the tenderness or the arousal.
And maybe, ultimately, that’s my biggest gripe with this book. See, as a mood piece, it’s absolutely splendid. Murakami does such a wonderful job capturing the mental and spiritual uncertainty of the tippy end of the sixties, with the music the characters listen to and the books they read and the walks they take together…it all comes together very prettily. The settings are described in vivid detail (like the amorous scenes). But on an emotional level…it was incredibly difficult for me to connect with any of the characters and their issues. I couldn’t relate. Everyone has mental problems, and everyone’s a little bit unstable, and everyone has some kind of emotional cross to bear…but by the end of it, I didn’t believe anyone was truly suffering as much as they said they were. I didn’t feel that everyone was stuck in a mental rabbit-hole of angst and self-doubt and whatnot. I didn’t get a sense of the sadness crippling practically every character in this book, or of the numbness that seems to be Toru’s default mode.
I just didn’t even care anymore.
And at the end, there was this one sex scene that I could not bring myself to understand. Plausibility was nowhere to be found. I don’t have a problem with love scenes, but they should be believable and understandable at least!
I don’t particularly enjoy writing negative reviews of things, especially books, because I know how much the process of writing a novel can suck. I know how excruciating it can be, and I would imagine that writing this book was tough for Murakami, because it’s so emotionally raw and incisive.
It’s just not incisive to me. It speaks loud and clear, but not to me. So it’s not that it’s a bad book; it’s just not a book for me.
However, since this was my first Murakami novel, I might give him the old college try and read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or something. Who knows? His backlist is so long I’m sure I’ll find something I like.