Sunday, April 18, 2010

M for Murakami and N for Nix

According to Wikipedia, the song "Norwegian Wood" was inspired by Lennon's extramarital affairs. It's about a boy who picks up a girl who takes him to her flat made of cheap pine (which does not sound like the title of a hit song, hence Norwegian Wood). He assumed they were going to have sex, and when they didn't, he supposedly burned down her house in the morning, although nowhere in the lyrics was this bit explicitly stated.

I love that song because the melody is playful and sad at the same time. And like all of The Beatles' songs, the stories are not as simple as they seem.

Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood has almost nothing to do with the song, except that it is Naoko's (one of the main characters) favorite. Naoko is the girlfriend of Toru's best friend Kizuki, and she is also Toru's first love. Coping with grief after Kizuki commits suicide at 17, Toru and Naoko seek comfort in their friendship. When Naoko becomes too emotionally distraught and has to be admitted into a sanatorium, Toru continues to pine for her as he resumes his studies at university. here, he meets Midori who is everything Naoko is not: easygoing, candid and straightforward. Eventually, he realizes that he has to choose between the girl who would never love him, and the girl who does and whom he can't help but fall in love with. It sounds like an easy enough decision to make, but stories are not as simple as they seem.

I can understand why some people are rabid fans of Murakami, but Norwegian Wood did not make me one. The novel had the rhythm of a fading memory which, though certainly interesting, did not do much in the way of imagery. I felt that the characters were too flawed for the reader to be able to relate to or at least genuinely empathize with them; Nagasawa, despite his unorthodox values, seemed like the only person who cast a shadow of normalcy.

It wasn't a huge disappointment, but the novel does not make it to my list of favorites.

Garth Nix's Sabriel was as exciting and fast-paced as Norwegian Wood was not. Of course, this is a fantasy novel and it's an unfair comparison. Sabriel is a necromancer who is kept safe from the dark magic looming over the Old Kingdom by being sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre, only to face it as a more mature but still totally unprepared 18-year old when her father mysteriously disappears. Sabriel finds company in two unlikely characters: a vengeful spirit trapped in the form of a cat named Mogget and a young guard whose past is linked with Sabriel's quest.

I finished the book in a few hours. It's an absolute page-turner that takes you along the twists and turns as if you're actually there, leaving you exhausted, relieved and feeling triumphant in the end.

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