The weather is really bad right now. Had about a month’s worth of rainfall in the last 24 hours and they say that more is to come over the next few days. Luckily, my town hasn’t flooded, which is saying something as the river is only across the street from my house. I heard on the lunch time news that a few towns and villages had been taken over by the rapid down pour. So, I’m grateful that it doesn’t look like this will happen to me! I do love the rain though. I like watching it fall and wondering how I can best describe it in a story. The weather can set a whole range of tones and moods, just like nature and the seasons. Which brings me on to this post’s subject, Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.
Published in 1987 and set in 1960’s Japan, this is a tragic love story with two different love triangles. It is also the most recognized of Murakami’s work. Now romance novels aren’t my thing, yeah I do like some love stories in the horror or supernatural books I read, but I like it to be a sub-genre more than the actual genre. I first heard about NW on a late night TV book show and added it to my list of books that I should read someday. I can’t remember what the TV review said as it was about 4/3 years back. I read NW last year-ish and straight away fell in love with Murakami’s style of writing. Not being able to read Japanese, I read the English translation of the book. During my MA Creative Writing, I had a class on translation which was very interesting and I realised that most people probably don’t think much about the language side of things when they read. It’s easy for a writer to translate another writer’s work and there’s okay money in it, but what got me is that sometimes the writing translator won’t stay true to the original work and can try to make it their own. This is a problem I had with the 3rd Murakami novel I read- Hard Boiled Wonderland and The End of The World.
NW is translated (by Jay Rubin, 2000) well and seems to have stayed true to Murakami’s style. His writing is so poetic, that after a few chapters you forget you are reading fiction and find yourself believing it to be poetry. This is because he uses a simplistic, yet full of meaning, short and rhythmic vocabulary, which is very readable. The imagery he creates is also amazing and beside from LOTR, I can’t think of another book that has blown me away through the pictures that the words can create. I’ve never been to Japan, but through Murakami I was able to visualise a very clear image of the novel’s settings and well, it felt like Japan was on my doorstep instead of being hundreds of miles away. As for the characters, I took to their names well, but that’s because I’m use to it from the manga/anime that I love. You also get a clear picture of the characters and their lives. You can deeply connect with them all and sympathize with the events they’ve had to face in life.
The themes in NW also fits in with this, as there’s love, tragedy, heartache, suicide, solitude, sex and growing up. The narrator of the novel Toru is reflecting back on his college years and the loss of his true love. This comes about because he hears the Beatles singing ‘Norwegian Wood’, a song about an affair. (Though I’ve lived in Liverpool, the home of the Beatles for the last 3 years, I’m still not a fan of their music.) So, that explains the title of the novel, but other connects can be made as well. Such as the backdrop for much of the novel is set near Kyoto in a mountainous/forest area and the main female character, Naoko’s favourite song happens to be NW. At times affairs do happen in the book and also the song’s meaning ‘this bird has flown’ can be read as someone become free through dying, which towards the end of the book is something that can be sensed. There is also something about the tone of the name that gives it a depressed, dark feeling and that really does linger under the surface of the novel.
The reason why I wanted to write this post was because I watched the movie of NW today. Though I know it’s only been a few days since I wrote about The Hungry Games, my mind is still interested in reviews. I still don’t plan to make a large feature about them on my blog though. But it’s nice to have more focus to my writing for a change. So, the movie which came out in December 2010, is a good representation of the book, but for me and like The Hungry Games, if you’ve not read the novel it can be hard and confusing to follow. The film is in subtitles, but there is actually very little speech, which reflections on the main characters’ love of solitude and not being able to openly discuss their feelings. Another thing that threw me was the student civil unrest, which is explained in the novel, but not the movie and though Toru is seen to stand against the unrest, he doesn’t share his thoughts on it, like he does in the novel. However, this theme appears not to have any meaning in the overall content, rather it’s a reflection of the turmoil that is happening in Toru’s life.
The main thing that strikes you about this movie is the deep connect to nature. There’s so many great shots of the landscape through the changing seasons. This is a much better backdrop to reflect the characters’ feelings. The Japanese clearly have a thing about nature and love showing it off in all it’s glory. One of my favourite parts was towards the end of the film where Toru goes to stay in a cave near the sea for some nights. The raging sea reflects his anger and loss so well, it was difficult for me not to be crying along with him. When he returns home he looks like the sea has worn him down, as it does to rocks and all the tragedy of his life is reflected in that moment. However, he knows he has to go on living. I like the scenes in the woods too, because of the symbolic meanings of finding solitude and reflection in nature. The woods become something of a secret place for Toru and Naoko.
The first love triangle is clear from the start with Naoko dating Kizuki and them being best friends with Toru, who is hiding his feelings for her. The second triangle is between Toru, Naoko and Midori. Once again though Toru can’t really have Naoko because she’s mentally unstable, so he turns to Midori instead. This story does have something of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet about it for me. I guess it’s because of the whole tragic love story and the fact that a few characters commit suicide. The movie did capture the 60’s in Japan though and I guess when people overall think about that country they still have an ancient image in their heads. So, it was interested to see how ‘westernise’ Japan was in that era.
Like with most other Murakami novels there is an underlining confusion for the reader. This isn’t really to do with the Japanese setting, it’s more how to do with Murakami’s style. His characters will say and do things that sometimes don’t make much sense or else appear wrong. This happens more at the endings than anywhere else in the books. I got the same sense at the end of the movie that I got at the end of the book. That confused, unsure sense about what the characters were going to do next. There seems to be no real closure or certainty from the characters, though we know this has all been a reflection from Toru, so clearly he has gone on living and coped well with letting go of the past. (I don’t think that came across in the movie, though there were a lot of flashbacks). I think one of the reasons why Murakami’s novels end like this is because he’s letting the reader draw their own conclusions. That said, NW is an awesome book and Murakami is a writer to fall in love with.