Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.
This is the third Murakami book I have read and it's easily the most accessible. Murakami was born in Kyoto, Japan in 1949 and has written several acclaimed novels which are slowly starting to become as acclaimed in the English speaking world.
His novels have definite surrealist elements but Norwegain Wood is very straight forward in it's construction. It surrounds a period in the life of Tokyo student Toru Watanabe during the last years of the 1960's. It is a time of student rebellion, free love and jazz.
Whilst on a flight several years after the events of the novel, Toru recalls his first love, a fellow student called Naoko, who is the girlfriend of his best friend. Without giving too much of the story away, Naoko and Toru become involved in a strange kind of long distance love affair which is further complicated when Toru meets another girl called Midori. She is very different to the quiet and reserved Naoko. She is impetuous, sparky, says what she thinks, smokes, gets drunk and wears clothing that her own boyfriend doesn't approve of. Toru and Midori become very close friends and Toru has decide between the two women. There are another couple of interesting characters too. There is Naoko's companion Reiko, a middle aged woman who is a gifted musician with a troubled past and a brilliant, womanising student friend of Toru's, Nagasawa about who there is little to admire.
This book is little more than a complicated love story, but it is told beautifully. It is difficult to gauge just how good Murakami's prose is,as this is a translation by Jay Rubin (my Japanese stretches to about two words so I can't check) but if the translation is a good one he is a beautiful writer. He transports you to the Tokyo of 1969 with his descriptions of the bars, restaurants and student quarters.
It is his characterisation though is where he scores heavily. Toru is a confused young man who doesn't ever seem to know what he wants from his studies, his relationships with women or his social life. Naoko is a damaged soul who finds it hard to really communicate her feelings to Toru and Midori, my favourite character, is great fun. She breezes through life even though some terrible things have happened to her. She is the strongest person in the story and in my mind the most realistic.
Haruki Murakami is becoming one of my favourite writers. I highly recommend this readable and enjoyable book.