When I think back on "Norwegian Wood" the first thing that comes to my mind is how beautifully it's written. Murakami flows together descriptions and images of Toru's emotions so eloquently and simply, it was hard to put down. I think that's why I stayed up until 5:00 am reading. I really enjoyed it. More than anything I really enjoyed it as a character study. The story seemed present just to fuel changes in the different personalities. That probably why he picked a time and setting that was closest to his own experiences. 1960s Tokyo was described so precisely I felt really connected to it. It seems to be quite autobiographical. So I guess having that as the backdrop made it easier to deal with a study of characters in the novel.
The most interesting characters to me were Nagasawa, Reiko and Midori. Nagasaki is an over intelligent friend of Toru's who's good at everything he tries and an overachiever who suffers from a lack of interest in what he's capable of to such an extent that he dons a feeling of high and mightiness. Ironically, even though he sounds like an ass (which he is to a certain degree) he's in many ways a guy who everyone wants to be. No one likes him in person and they don't want to admit it, but they envy him and that's why they surround him.
Reiko, on the other hand, is incredible at her art and passion. But she couldn't handle it and the success that came with it. She's the opposite of Nagasawa with the same talents. Even right down to her sex life. Nagasawa uses his sexual abilities to manipulate women, notably Hatsumi, while Reiko on the other hand is manipulated by someone else's sexual advances. She ultimately loses her life (metaphorically speaking) not unlike Hatsumi who takes her own life. Nagasawa wanted to go out and see how much he could conquer and Reiko was happy to be a cog in the machine at the communal asylum. The two characters who have the most effect on Toru are two sides of the same coin.
Midori was interesting to me. She behaved in no way like anyone else and neither did Toru. But he couldn't see that. Not until much later that is. She was so free, sexually and mentally. She would challenge him unlike the others in his life he had to take care of. I'm never sure what more to say about her. She's just beautifully enigmatic.
After the writing and the characters, another aspect that drew me in was the setting of 1960s Japan. Everyone was rebelling against the established order, yet as Toru put it, it seemed that they were hypocritical in doing so. Reminded me a lot of activism now. I thought it was just an issue of our generation but maybe most academic rebellions end the same. It's always the same majority type of people going to school; kids with the funds, good education and a life compass directing them to stable incomes (in Japan the sought after path of a "salary-man"). It's hard to truly fight back against the system when the system has provided you with everything to be who you are.
You could really take this novel out of it's context and it would fit nicely in any era. The setting merely provides a backdrop and a feeling of tension while amplifying the feeling of not being able to do anything but kick a few shins. I guess that was Murakami's point about the futility of really trying to do anything when you're young.