NORWEGIAN WOOD by Haruki Murakami

From the Back Cover

Toru, a serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend year before.  As Naoko retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.  A magnificent coming-of-age story steeped in nostalgia, NORWEGIAN WOOD blends the music, the mood, and the ethos that were the sixties with a young man’s hopeless and heroic first love.

My Thoughts

NORWEGIAN WOOD was my first Murakami, and I’ve heard it’s a good place to start, especially for us readers who prefer contemporary over fantasy.  Plus, in an interview with Timothée Chalamet, Harry Styles named it as his desert island book, so I was sure I picked a good one (and you can’t argue that logic!!).

Murakami is often criticized by feminist readers for his blatant belittling of women, and just a few pages into NORWEGIAN WOOD, I understood why.  It’s the constant references to Naoko’s beauty and size, emphasizing that Toru found her to be more beautiful after she lost weight (though she only lost weight due to severe depression after the death of her boyfriend).  It’s not just these references towards the female characters, like Naoko and Midori, but it’s the fact that they are not made about the male characters in return.  I’ve been spoiled by reading mostly female authors this year, and it’s these kinds of sexist character remarks that I haven’t missed.  Though this bothered me, it didn’t necessarily take away from my reading of the novel.

Beyond the slight misogyny on Murakami’s part, I really enjoyed NORWEGIAN WOOD (and I couldn’t stop humming the Beatles song in the time I read it).  In terms of narration, Toru was a rather bland character, but though he serves as the narrator, it is difficult to determine, who is, in fact, the protagonist.  The focus seemed more on the three leading ladies, Naoko, Midori, and Reiko, than on Toru himself.  I’m tempted to say the book is hardly about Toru at all, but the women that come in and out of his life.  Whether or not this was Murakami’s intention, it’s hard to say, but I really enjoyed this aspect to the novel, and the rather open-ended conclusion that follows.  NORWEGIAN WOOD is a very tender story; the novel deals with difficult topics in a way that feels incredibly raw and emotional.

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

Realistic fiction with a few fantastical quirks makes NORWEGIAN WOOD the go-to novel for Murakami fans who struggle with overly magical narratives.  I’m already looking forward to my next venture into the Murakami backlist.


  1. thinkingandinking

    I’m a big Murakami fan, so I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on his other works! Personally it’s not one of my favourites – my number one has to be ‘1Q84’, which though a COMMITMENT, is really fantastic – but this was a great review 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      1. thinkingandinking

        I think norwegian wood was the perfect introduction for that hint of the fantastic – if i were you, i would read 1Q84 next and then Kafka, which is very very strange but a brilliant novel! (Also I haven’t read it yet but Killing Comendatore looks amazing too)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Rachel

    Fantastic review, you definitely captured the tension between enjoying the book itself and being distracted by the casual misogyny. I still have a lot of warm feelings toward this book even though the treatment of female characters is quite awful. If you find a Murakami novel that actually has well fleshed out female characters, definitely let me know, because I still want to love him. My favorite of his is After Dark and I want to say it’s not as misogynistic as NW but honestly it’s been so long that I can’t even remember??

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hannah and Her Books

      Interesting! I’ll admit I haven’t heard much about AFTER DARK but I will definitely check it out now. So far I’ve gotten recs for WIND-UP BIRD, KAFKA, and SPUTNIK SWEETHEART, but I will add your selection to the ever-growing pile. As I continue my Murakami adventure, I’ll definitely let you know if I find more dimensional female characters! Thanks for your thoughts! 😀

      Liked by 2 people

  3. jeremyjameshongkong

    Murakami is my favourite writer….I am so pleased I didn’t read this one first though, cause I didn’t like it that much! Isn’t it interesting how different books appeal to different people. I see that Rachel above, has After Dark as her fav – for me it’s my least fav. Go figure. In any case love to read discussion about his work so thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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