Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Book Review: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

I cannot figure out whether to fault Murakami for what I did not like about this book, or the translator. In any event, I think this book's biggest faults comes from might be lost in translation. At least, I'm giving Murakami the benefit of the doubt on that one.

It's not that I totally disliked the book. I liked much of it, and I think it had a well suited ending, despite the fact that majority of the story arc seemed a little stagnant getting there. Murakami obviously does a beautiful job of describing things, particularly setting.

In fact, it's the fact that he is so good at description that messes up the book a bit. While the descriptions of places and weather and people around are so vibrant, the characterization of those moving within these settings falls completely flat. I can think of few protagonists more utterly boring, lifeless and uninteresting than Watanabe. And given that many proport this book to be a loose autobiography, I'd like to imagine Murakami would pay himself more respect than creating such a bland protagonist.

Other characters seem more like caricatures than actual people. Midori, for instance, doesn't seem like a real female. Her actions seem driven from a listless place where men seem to THINK women's motives come from, and not from any real place. The one exception is Reiko, whose characterization is clear and fascinating.

If only Murakami had taken the time to make the rest of the characters as interesting as Reiko, and to bring life to the plot with as much ease as he did with Reiko's story arc, this could have been one of my favorite books. Instead, I found myself sort of non-plussed.

This is not to say I wouldn't ever recommend the book. For many people, beautiful prose and solid setting are enough to look over some flaws in character and plot, and those elements really were of the highest quality. I found myself dying to step onto the page and into the mountains of Kyoto. But for me, it just wasn't enough to make a full story, and I suppose thats why I was a bit disappointed.

Expansion: Re-reading this review a few months after finishing the book, I will say that some of the beautiful imagery did stay with me a very long time, and that this book was less forgettable than most of the books I read. Perhaps I was a bit harsh in judging it, though I'd like to believe that my initial reactions were pretty sensible. It does make me curious to see if some of Murakami's more acclaimed books are well known simply because in those cases, he was able to rectify the problems I had with this particular book. It does make me wonder what else he might have in store.

This review was reposted and expanded from my review at Good Reads. Oh, you love reviewing books, too? Join! We can be friends!

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