Tag Archives: novel

Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami

My review at Goodreads.

Norwegian WoodNorwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Murakami’s fiction is delightful, whether he’s writing magical realism or a fake autobiography like this one. His style is the same in both genres: the trippy similes, the rich descriptions, the flights of introspection by the characters, the symbolism. That the narrative is first-person and that the book is just one long chapter — as opposed to the omniscient third person narrator and the sequences of intertwined chapters in his other novels — only strengthen the impact of the story.

Also delightful is that we are transported back to a time when people wrote letters — the kind where we put pen to paper, the kind we had to stick in an envelope, go to to a post office or to a mailbox to send and wait for days until we got a reply, and precisely because so much time and effort were required, we tended to invest so much more of ourselves in the letters, working our thoughts onto the pages the way a painter works his vision onto the canvas. What a welcome break from today’s shallow exchanges on the internet.

I found the letters included in the text of the novel real masterpieces; they contain deep, touching reflections on the inner worlds of the characters.

Finally, I was impressed by the way the characters dealt with sex. I know the Japanese culture can be repressive and prudish, but the young people in this novel show a no-nonsense attitude in this respect. Could it be because they were living in the 1960’s?

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1Q84, by Haruki Murakami

Done reading. Below is a copy of my review at Goodreads:

1Q84 (1Q84, #1-3)1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Murakami is addictive. I’ve read three novels by him in a little over a month: Kafka on the Shore, Wild Sheep Chase and 1Q84. Next in line is Norwegian Wood.

I like the way Murakami tells a story, mixing action and reflection. I know many people find that it slows down the pace of the narrative, but I like it.

I also like how he uses an omniscient narrator, something which is becoming increasingly rare, I think, and how even though each chapter corresponds to one character, the narrator is not limited to the character’s POV.

One example: in a chapter about the security people working for one of the cults, Buzzcut and Ponytail (two of their agents) jump into their car and hurry to try to catch one of the the main characters (let’s call him X), who is many miles away. At this point, the narrator says,

“By this time, however, X had been reunited with Y (…) in the park. Buzzcut and Ponytail had no idea where X was headed.”

Now, it’s easy to imagine a beginning writer being scolded by his instructor for mixing POVs this way, but Murakami can get away with it, because he’s Murakami. And it also goes to show that rules exist to be broken, preferably with flair.

1Q84 is a very long book, but worth every page. One curious thing about it: at about 50% of the story, we reach a climax that makes us wonder how Murakami will be able to pull off the remaining 50% of the book. A master stroke. I was perplexed by it, but also glad, because I still had more than half the book to read.

Life, old age, death, alternate universes, passages between them, fathers and sons, a man and a woman in love who haven’t seen each other in decades, characters who are writers, editors or professors: these are typical Murakami staples, and he gets better and better at portraying them, at making us care about their stories.

And sex, of the normal and of the magical kind. Murakami is good at writing about both.

A coincidence: last week, I watched 5 Centimeters per Second, a very Murakami-ish Japanese anime. There, the main storyline is also about a man and a woman in love who haven’t seen each other in decades, since childhood. Is this a Japanese thing? However good Murakami may be at breaking with Japanese tradition, he is still Japanese. Or maybe this is always a good theme, whichever country you come from.

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