Thursday, April 14, 2005

50 Book Challenge #22: Norwegian Wood

When I was prospecting for book recommendations a few months ago, Murakami's name came up several times. All his books were always checked out of the local library, though, so only with the closing of my local branch was I able to finally obtain a copy of one of the books I'd heard mentioned (I requested a dozen or so unavailable volumes and had them delivered to my local library before it closed so I'd have escapist reading to see me through the long march to exams.) They never got me The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but Norwegian Wood came in.

I have to say I'm disappointed. Call me a Boomer hater, but the continuous stream of coming-of-age stories from the 1960s in American literature have burned me out on tales of earnest teen guys listening to the same dozen American rock songs, living a dissolute Sixties lifestyle, and meandering unhappily through a politically charged landscape. The novel was too much like an American story: the cultural differences mostly manifested themselves in some pathetic allegiances to traditional gender roles, brief references to "right-wing" Japanese politics, and the tendency for characters to commit suicide at rates rather higher than are typical of even the angstiest American teen.

Toru, the main character, is fairly blank and malleable. He doesn't seem to exercise a lot of control over his own fate and thus ends up sticking his hand in the crazy by hooking up with his dead (by teen suicide, natch) best friend's former girlfriend, who hears voices and alternates between staring mournfully, babbling incoherently, and crying inconsolably. Great idea. The foreshadowing of her fate is so obvious that I spent most of the book hoping she'd just off herself and get things over with so Toru could finally work out whether he wants to be with the pathologically selfish and uninhibited Midori.

If you have a higher tolerance than I do for conventional narratives about young adult men sleeping with lots of deeply flawed women and working in record stores, go ahead and read Norwegian Wood. For my part, I was very excited to read in the translator's note that this book is entirely unlike Murakami's other famous works and thus I can try his fiction again without having to slog through Japanese Boomer navel-gazing.
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