Norwegian WoodNorwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

a litrachaa professor of mine once told us that when evaluating a book, one should read it through and then return and re-read the first chapter. the themes should be writ small in the first chapter, he said, and upon re-reading, the first chapter should stand in relation to the book as a map does a landscape. this has proved to be interesting advice, and is especially true of this book.

the first of murakami’s books i read was A Wild Sheep Chase; the second, Hear the Wind Sing. Norwegian Wood came third and, in my mind, didn’t near measure up to my true love, the Sheep. i thought Norwegian Wood was rather lightweight and melodramatic, for all the formlessness (or gormlessness, i thought at the time) of its narrator. twenty years hence i see it quite differently.

it’s a book about loss–not just the loss of young friendships or love, but of everything: of people, time, one’s very memory; of youth, of optimism, of hope. Toru (our narrator) does his best to rage against the dying of the light.

i thought when i first read this book that he’d won his fight, come out on top. perhaps assessing Toru’s fate is a matter of the reader’s outlook: fundamentally a pessimist or an optimist? or perhaps one’s final view of Toru depends on what has been lost in the reader’s own life, what forgotten, what let go. all i can say is, this time, revisiting the first chapter after the rather shocking final lines of the book, i wonder whether Naoko and Kizuki didn’t, in the end, take him with them.

this book is vastly more layered and nuanced than i gave it credit for years ago. plus, Midori is one of the best characters ever. i can’t remember when i last so wanted to take a book character out to dinner. Midori would just be so much fun.

about the narration: i’m not overly fond of the reader of the audiobook edition. he hasn’t yet mastered the trick of doing women’s voices without getting all breathy and squeaky. his version of Reiko sounds like a great-grandma, even though Reiko is only 38. Midori sounds like an airhead (which she is, kind of, but even airheads don’t have to sound like the stereotype of airheads). so i can’t say that the audio version added a great deal to the experience, except that i can take it out hiking without running into a wall.

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