'Norwegian Wood': On Having a Girl, and Losing Her

It's not unusual for authors, or filmmakers, or television producers to give their characters experiences with insanity, slightly illicit sex, or youthful rebellion. But what makes Haruki Murakami's bildungsroman Norwegian Wood unusual, or at least what struck me the first time I read it, and all the times since, is how quiet the depictions of the main character's most piercing and unnerving experiences are. It is, I think, one of the best modern literary depictions of depression I know.


Toru, the main character, has obviously recovered, at least somewhat, from the detachment that gripped him throughout many of the events that he's describing, but his boredom and distance from some of the more unnerving things happening to him and going on around him are interesting in their own right. His best friend kills himself; his girlfriend, who he adopts from that best friend, is deeply mentaly ill; he's at a university where the campus is in upheaval; his dorm landlord may be a spy; and Toru's enabling another friend to cheat on his girlfriend mostly because he and the other young man both like The Great Gatsby. That aimlessness of purpose and morals is frustrating in part because it feels so accurate.

It's because of that difficult balance, achieved in the same way as a very good adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird I saw at the Huntington Theatre in Boston years ago, that I'm interested to see how a movie adaptation of the novel will come off. There's a tiny little teaser trailer out:


It doesn't offer much to go on. But I'm encouraged by that flash of green towards the end. The girl who pushes Toru towards decisiveness is named Midori. Her name means green, and that colored light seems to be a little, wise nod towards her importance, even if she isn't present in the trailer. Gimmicky names like that can be annoying, but Midori's freshness is a good jolt in the novel, for both Toru and us. It would be nice to see that reflected in the aesthetics of the movie.
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Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture writer with The Washington Post.

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