Told in the first-person perspective of Toru Watanabe, who looks back on his days as a college student living in Tokyo and his relationships with two very different women- Naoko and Midori.
Numerous key scenes in Norwegian Wood are set on a rainy day; in How to Read Literature Like a Professor ,Thomas C. Foster writes that rain represents a second chance, a rebirth, and a cleansing (Foster 72-3). Through the feature of rain and water in abundance, Murakami portrays the protagonist, Watanabe, as a character surrounded by literal and metaphysical water who is able to communicate in states of in-betweenness with the dead. Rain also renews yet blurs, making reality look different, strange, unrecognizable. Perhaps Murakami adds a rainy scene in the end, as a way to emphasize the lack of resolution.
Midori is an important side character, a college love interest of Watanabe, and is first introduced while Watanabe is having lunch. As the story progresses, many of their dates involve grabbing lunch together or at the bar and Midori is also seen cooking for Watanabe when she invited him to her house. The moments Watanabe spends with Midori is vastly different when compared to Naoko, his childhood crush. The latter and Watanabe are seen taking extensive and aimless walks, fitting to Naoko's demure and shy personality. On the other hand, Midori is not abashed to express her "hunger" for love to the world, stirring up a certain vitality in Watanabe that Naoko could not portray.
Memory of pain and loneliness is a central aspect of love
The novel introduces death early on in the book; all the characters have a relation to death whether through a family member of a loved one. Through his remembrance of those who have passed, Watanabe shows the close connection between his interpersonal understanding of love with the ability to remember what is absent and lose in his life.
This story starts off by introducing the main character, Tsukuru Tazaki, and his group of friends: Ao, Aka, Shiro, and Kuro. During high school, the 5 of them were inseperable and continue to meet up every holiday break after graduation. However, when Tsukuru visits his friends one day, he is informed by Ao that the group no longer wants to see him and does not provide any explanation or warning. Coerced by his college friend, Tazaki decides to go and meet each one of his old high school friends to piece together what had caused him to be suddenly ostracized.
“Le mal du pays”-song piece
This piano piece is brought up several times throughout the book, as it perfectly matches the novel, its plot and characters and tones, the music’s eerie chromaticism, its insistent repetition, its austerity and lack of sensuality, and its identification with what is empty or missing and its plain old weirdness. French for homesickness, Le mal du pays portrays Tazaki’s feelings towards his sudden isolation and how he has changed mentally in order to accept the harsh reality of rejection. Le mal du pays is also associated with Shiro, a side character, due to the similarities in their delicateness. Kindled by the melancholy strains of “Le Mal du Pays,” Tazaki revisits his pain without turning his thoughts immediately toward death.
Through Tazaki's interest in swimming, water is seen as a way of self-mediation for the protagonist. He describes it as "...a place where he can create order with his body" as it is transparent and colorless, just as he considers himself to be. Additionally, Tazaki meets an important side character, Haida, at the pool; Haida is a mirror of his old friends as he also vanishes without a trace due to unknown reasons.
One's inability to stand out can restrict their own personal freedom
Tsukuru Tazaki, the protagonist, considers himself to be "colorless" due ot the lack of color in his name; his high school friends had colors compromised in their names: Black (kuro), Red (aka), White (shiro), Blue (Ao). Murakami emphasizes the vast difference between the main character and the other people’s characters through their actions, speech, and personality as well.
“I have no personality, no brilliant color. I have nothing to offer. That’s always been my problem. I feel like an empty vessel”.
“The other four friends found his short temper amusing and often teased him about it… he was a cheerful person and enormously popular among his classmates”