Monday, March 13, 2006

I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me

During my trip to LB last week, I actually kept the copy of my university clearance between the pages of Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood, a book I finally finished just this past weekend.

I actually bought my first Murakami novel a couple of years ago. I was at Powerbooks at Megamall after work, looking for something new to read. The bestsellers display had a pile of books written by Murakami, whose name I had previously heard of but of whom I knew little about. I looked around a bit and finally settled on a copy of Dance Dance Dance, in part because it shared the name of a Beach Boys song, and in part because the blurb talked about a psychic teenage girl who listened to the Talking Heads.

That book was a good, exciting read, and after reading more about his work on the Internet, I started pining for his other work. Norwegian Wood was the book that made Murakami a cultural sensation in Japan, and I finally got a copy last month from Lynn. The novel borrowed its name from the title of the John Lennon song.

It differed from Dance Dance Dance in that it dealt less with the surreal and was more of a straightforward love story. Our hero is an average Japanese college student in the late '60s. Reeling from the death of his best friend, he finds comfort in the company of his best friend's girl, with whom he falls in love quite deeply. But the girl is very troubled and she goes away to get treatment for depression, while he is left to deal with the world outside. At university, he meets a dynamic young co-ed whose mission in life, it seemed, was to capture his heart.

The novel was surprisingly funny and simple. There are descriptions of typical dorm life, with odd roommates and weird characters, to which even I, who spent some time living in dorms in high school and college, could relate. He also pokes fun at would-be critics, with a girl asking the hero, "You aren't trying to talk like that Caulfield boy, are you?" perhaps realizing the comparisons the two would generate.

Most of the adventures are set in a Tokyo proudly displaying all the affectations of Western popular culture. We see our hero reading F. Scott Fitzgerald, taking a job at a record bar, picking up girls at bars, and listening to lots of Beatles records. It's a great backdrop for a book about love and loneliness.

Nick Hornby said, "The only reason trendy pop groups don't write songs like the Beatles did is that they can't." In a way, this is true as well for books like Norwegian Wood. It's not the easiest thing in the world to write about love, and about falling in love with a girl so deeply that it becomes heroic. We've seen a lot of people try and fail, and that is why the world is littered with banal pop songs and cheesy television shows and movies.

But Murakami definitely pulls it off, and quite brilliantly. He captures the loneliness and the happiness, the hope and the hopelessness that falling in love is all about. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, pitch-perfect, and the feeling stays with you for a while, even after it is over.

Just like a Beatles love song.

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beatles love songs don't really grab me much, but i love this review :) after reading it, im convinced that if i don't go out and get this book today, i'll probably die. hehe. hey you oughto consider a career in this stuff. book reviews and such.


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