The Premise: Toru Watanabe is a pretty standard, largely sexist dude at college in Tokyo. Not that he’s actually bothered about that; he’s clearly one of those intensely annoying people who does no work at all for three years and then gets a 2:1. He spends a lot of time moping about over girls, being sexist and receiving intimate pleasures which are described in frankly excruciating detail. Also, nothing really happens.
Thoughts: seriously, what in the name of Lucifer is this book actually about? Why is it popular? In the endnote, I learned that Murakami left Japan after Norwegian Wood was published, because it made him so amazingly famous and popular. Did it though? Or did he have to move because all literate people and anyone who objects to seven thousand references to oral sex in a book were camped outside his house waving placards?
Basically, I think this is one of the most annoying books I’ve ever read. It’s ridiculously repetitive and the only things that happen are cringeworthy sex scenes and masses of people killing themselves. Probably because Toru is such a crushing bore. Toru is a ridiculous character; I felt like Murakami wants him to be a Holden Caulfield type, but really his love of The Great Gatsby is ironic because Toru is much more like Nick Carraway: responding to the comparatively exciting lives of other people while doing very little himself.
I was going to have a rant about the presentation of women in Norwegian Wood, but it’s not like Murakami does men any favours either; when Toru and his stupid, misogynist friend joked about swapping girls, I wanted to throw the book at my own head to hopefully knock myself out and take a break from reading. Toru is completely obsessed with his dead friend’s girlfriend, Naoko, in literally the creepiest way imaginable; at one point, he’s spying on her while she sleeps and, by an amazing coincidence, she chooses that moment to show her naked body and Toru, in a display that should put him in prison rather than in his own book, says something repulsive about her flesh being like a newborn’s and isn’t that really hot? Umm, no. Please report to your nearest secure facility.
In Conclusion: I remain very annoyed by this book. I read Kafka on the Shore a few years ago and remember enjoying it, so I now don’t know whether I was experiencing some sort of psychotic episode when I read it or whether Norwegian Wood is just a really, really bad book. Wait, I do know. It’s a really bad book.