Cambridge Book Club – Norwegian Wood


This has been a very long time coming.

Norwegian Wood was recommended as a book club read about ten months ago, but our group fell into absolutely chaos not long after and we haven’t met since. Such is life in a university city, you can never pin people down. Today (what better day than World Book Day?) I officially give up hope that our book club will ever meet again, or discuss the novel, which, by the way, would have made for an incredible topic of conversation. So I throw the rope to you, fellow book clubbers, go out, buy Norwegian Wood, and get reading.

I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me
She showed me her room, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood?

Music can carry memories, of a time, a place or a feeling. ‘Norwegian Wood’, the melancholy Beatles song, has this effect on Toru Watanabe, who, as he hears the first sad notes, is swept back almost twenty years, to his time spent studying in Tokyo.  A time filled with confusion and rebellion, student life in the late 1960s was rife with protests, social unrest, and nationwide movements against the establishment. For Wanatabe life is just as tumultuous – filled with strange encounters, casual sex, meaningless friendships, and an undying commitment towards a gentle but troubled girl from his childhood. Life is confusing, but monotonous, until an impulsive young woman, with wide-open eyes and an attitude to match, streams into Wanatabe’s life, and he finds himself forced to make a choice, the future, or the past.

I fell completely in love with this book and, I can safely say having explored some more of his work, with Murikami himself. I know one or two members of the club didn’t feel quite the same as I did, but as we foolishly kept our discussions to a minimum, choosing to save our thoughts for the meeting which never occurred, I was unable to discuss it at length with anyone. So, if any of you have read the book and want to discuss it, in the comment sections or via email, I would be more than happy.

In the meantime, here are a few questions to think about, or to discuss with your own book clubs:

What were your feelings towards the main characters, Wanatabe, Naoko and Midori – how do they differ?
What is the relevance of the song ‘Norwegian Wood’? Does this relate to more than just a song?
Wanatabe often draws on his love of the book The Great Gatsby , why do you think this is?
How do you interpret Wantabe’s friendship with Nagasawa?
How, if at all, do you think the sexual encounter between Wanatabe and Naoko influence Naoko’s mental state?
Why do you think Wanatabe makes his final choice? Does he, in fact, make a choice at all?
How do you interpet the novel’s ending? What is happening to Wanatabe during this final exchange?
The book begins looking back, and never returns to the original tense, why do you think this is?
What do you think Wantabes ‘current’ situation is? Where did he end up?
Norwegian Wood is considered to be the most autobiographical of all Murikami’s books – what elements do you think speak of autobiographical moments?



Cambridge Book Club – The Miniaturist

18498569Last week I met up with the Cambridge Book Club for the first time. The book up for discussion this month was Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, which, if you live anywhere other than under a stone, you will no doubt be familiar with. But for those of you who have avoided looking at the best-seller lists for the past few months, here’s a quick summary:

The Miniaturist tells the story of 18-year-old Petronella “Nella” Ooortman, who travels from her humble family home, to a house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam, owned by wealthy Dutch merchant, and Nella’s new husband, Johannes Brandt.

As she steps beyond the threshold of the Brandt household, Nella is welcomed not by the warm embrace of her new love, but the cold words of Johannes’ sister, Marin, and the immature giggles of the household staff. She finds herself, not the mistress of a grand abode, but a stranger in a foreign land. Her feelings of isolation are further compounded, by her illusive husbands wedding gift to her, a cabinet-sized replica of her new home.

The Brandt household is not all it seems, however, and Nella soon find her new home life begins unravelling around her. She soon realises the steps she must take to save the family from ruin. Expect to uncover hidden loves, seething scandals, and a mysterious miniaturist who predicts her customers’ future. Travel back to Amsterdam in this unflinching tale of a family’s journey towards freedom in a repressive and judgemental society.

On the whole I really enjoyed the book, I found the storyline intriguing, and once I had started I struggled to put the book down. I don’t think it’s a life changing piece of literature, it’s a best-seller, and as such is quite widely appealing and very readable.

Here are some of the main themes and questions that emerged in our discussion:

– The miniaturist’s identity: Could more have been done with this character? Did Burton give enough of an explanation?
– The fate of the characters: How would the household have survived after the novel had ended?
– The ‘twist’: Was it good enough? Did Burton take a too obvious route?
– Burton’s treatment of Marin, Johannes’ stern, feminist sister: Why did Burton choose to take this route with Marin? Did she remain true to her identity?
– The relationship between Cornelia and Otto: Was there more to this than first met the eye?
– Corruption, and the criminal underworld of Amsterdam: Do you think Burton delved far enough into this area? Was just peeking beneath the surface sufficient?