Norwegian Wood

Haruki Murakami

First Sentence: I was 37 then, strapped in my seat as the huge 747 plunged through dense cloud cover on approach to Hamburg Airport.

Toru Wantabe hears ‘Norwegian Wood’ (the song) as he is strapped in his seat in Hamburg, and he begins to remember his first love, Naoko. He recalls his student days when his best friend (and Naoko’s boyfriend), Kizuki, takes his own life on his 17th birthday. As Naoko finds this loss increasingly hard to deal with, Toru starts college and meets Midori, a  beautiful girl who is to have a profound effect on his life. As all this takes place, Naoko’s mental health steadily deteriorates and Wantabe is forced to choose between the past, with Naoko (who has ended up in a secluded Asylum in the mountains) and a possible future with Midori. For me this is a novel I really enjoyed, but I find it pales in comparison to Murakami’s more surreal work (Like The Wind-up Bird Chronicle or Kafka on the Shore). All in all though it’s a great read and it has plenty of classic Murakami descriptions: “I love the way you talk. Like spreading plaster, nice and smooth.” (Midori talking to Wantabe); “I’m the scratchy stuff on the side of the matchbox.” (Reiko [Naoko’s room-mate in the asylum] talking about herself). It’s all good when it comes to Murakami though, and this is certainly a great book, just not his best.

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Last Sentence: Again and again I called out for Midori from the dead centre of this place that was no place.

Last Sentence explained: Naoko never fully recovers and takes her own life near the end of the book. Wantabe then goes on a wander around Japan trying to decide what to do with his life, all the while widening the gap between himself and Midori. On his return home, Reiko comes to stay with him and they end up  holding an impromptu funeral/memorial for Naoko, playing songs on Reiko’s guitar and drinking, which ends in them having sex. It is after this that he becomes fully sure that he loves Midori, and that it is her he wants to be with. The book ends with Toru phoning Midori and telling her how he really feels. Midori asks “Where are you now?”, which indicates a softening on her part, and Wantabe starts asking himself the same question, Where is he?, before he finally accepts he has no idea. All he knows is that he needs Midori.

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