Monday, 3 November 2014

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

published 1987

translation from the Japanese by Jay Rubin 2000


 [Hatsumi is talking to Toru Watanabe about the girls at her college] “Sure there are a few super-stuck-up girls in every year, but the rest of us are just ordinary. We all eat lunch in the school cafeteria for 250 Yen - "

"Now wait just a minute, Hatsumi,” I said, interrupting her. “In my school the cafeteria has three lunches: A, B and C. the A Lunch is 120 Yen, the B Lunch is 100 Yen, and the C Lunch is 80 Yen. Everybody gives me dirty looks when I eat the A lunch, and anyone who can’t afford the C Lunch eats ramen noodles for 60 Yen. That’s the kind of place I go to. You still think I can talk to girls from yours?”





observations: Haruki Murakami is probably the best-known living Japanese author, worldwide, and this book has sold over 4-million copies, and made him a superstar in his home country: so much so that he felt he had to go and live abroad. The book is available in Japan in special editions.

It’s a coming-of-age novel – Watanabe is looking back at his student years, his relationship with two women in particular, his friends and his studies. It’s quite long and detailed, perhaps unnecessarily so. There were times when I longed to cut bits out. An example: he goes to visit Midori, who lives above a bookshop. When he is talking to her, he suddenly realizes that he has brought flowers, but left them downstairs. So he goes and gets them. And that’s it – there’s no point or followup to that. But in the same scene there’s this lovely description of Midori cooking:
From the back she looked like an Indian percussionist – ringing a bell, tapping a block, striking a water-buffalo bone, each movement precise and economical, with perfect balance.
You do get an immense amount of detail, like the student cafeteria meal-costings above, and that’s interesting to an extent as giving a picture of Japanese life, but I thought it was too much. He describes people’s clothes a lot, which is always nice.

I’m helpless before this book: I quite liked it, but I cannot see in it what so many other people have found. I thought it was just another book about a young man and his fascination with his own thoughts and feelings. I did like this – one character asks another “How much to you love me?”

The answer is: “Enough to melt all the tigers in the world to butter.”

But the random joys didn’t really outweigh the longueurs.

There are similarities with Le Grand-Meaulnes and Catcher in the Rye, and the protagonist is very fond of The Great Gatsby. Japan is very much under-represented on the blog, but Forbidden Colours by Yukio Mishima is here, and Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha here.

One picture is a Japanese University cafeteria, the other is of a young Japanese man – out of era but I love the picture. Both from Wikimedia Commons.

14 comments:

  1. Moira - The writing style of this one does sound interesting. But honestly, it doesn't appeal to me much. As you say, there's a limit to the self-ruminations one can enjoy. Still, like you I've heard raves about it. I have admit though I probably will give this a miss.

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    1. I can't encourage you to do otherwise, Margot. It seems well-written, but I think will speak to some people and not others....

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  2. The only one of his I have read if WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE which is very powerful especially in its historical sections dealing with the war, but occasionally also messy and diffuse - that does seems to be part of the appeal by the sound of things.

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    1. I was expecting to be more impressed by him I think, and expecting that I would feel I had to read more by him, as he does seem to be such an important author. But you certainly haven't persuade me I should read the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle....

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  3. Not for me - though I do have his 1Q84 books on the pile. Is Ryu his brother? as there are a few of his books on the pile, though the first one I read wasn't that great - Almost Transparent Blue.

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    1. Well you can read IQ84 for me, I won't be hitting it any time soon. One of the difficulties of foreign literature is that you don't know if names are common or not... I just checked and there are 3 different Japanese writers called Murakami, none of them related apparently.

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    2. Ryu has appeared on a few "best of noir" type lists and the book I read had won a few awards. I thought I was in safe hands. God it was awful. I was tempted at one point to gouge my eye out with a spoon, just so I could experience a different type of pain when reading it. At least it was short. Needless to say I haven't rushed to any of the others yet, which had been bought in advance ahead of actually trying him. HAHA.....that'll teach me. Only I don't think it's a lesson I have absorbed just yet.

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    3. This made me laugh a lot. I'm almost intrigued by what could make it THAT awful, but I won't be trying it, thank you for the warning.

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  4. Glen and I thought we would read IQ84 but i think we have given up on it. At least for now. Just too overwhelming. And your post here means I won't try Norwegian Wood either. Glen has a shorter one i might try.

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    1. Tracy, I believe that his books are quite different from each other, so perhaps I might like another one better. But I'm not tempted at the moment. I will be interested to hear if you do try one...

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  5. Moira, the author is more known for "Kafka on the Shore" in my part of the world although I have not read either this or "Norwegian Wood." My daughter brought Haruki Murakami to my attention. I can't help thinking that Asian writers including Indian pack too much into their fiction. I often find them verbose.

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    1. That's an interesting bit of literary criticism Prashant, I'll have to look through my reading and see if I agree! So many people like Murakami, he must have something more to him than I have seen...

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  6. Talking of Japanese novels, Moira, have you read Strangers by Taichi Yamada? It is a wonderful scary, haunting ghost story.

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    1. I actually got hold of a copy after reading something you wrote on it! Haven't actually read it yet, but will do.... Glad you are managing to get through the horrors of blogger software again.

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