Literature has the power to transport you to different times, places and worlds. But when was the last time you explored ‘the world of literature’, so to say? The beauty of literature is universal, meaning that it should be appreciated in its entirety. So many wonderful pieces of prose originate from across the world and are often overshadowed by the emphasis our English and American literature. This is part two of The Indiependent writers’ favourite books from around the globe.
If you have never heard of Haruki Murakami stop what you’re doing right now and get yourself down to Waterstones immediately. Murakami is one of Japan’s biggest modern writers and for a justifiable reason. Norwegian Wood is told by Toru Wantanabe, who is looking back on his life following the suicide of his best friend Kizuki on his 17th birthday.
Following Kizuki’s death, Toru and Kizuki’s now ex-girlfriend, Naoko, try to come to terms to Kizuki’s death through silent walks through the Japanese countryside. However, things quickly complicate once Tobu falls passionately in love with Naoko, whose deteriorating mental health forces her to go to a mental rehabilitation. Meanwhile, Tobu enters university and meets a pixie-haired girl named Midori, who he quickly develops a close relationship with.
However, don’t expect this to be your typical western love story. If you want happy endings and a reflection of the ‘Hollywood’ ideals of love, then perhaps this book isn’t for you. If you are familiar with The Beatles’ song which the novel is named after, this will perhaps serve to give an insight into course of the novel. Tobu describes how: ‘I felt so sorry for Naoko. My arm was not the one she needed, but the arm of someone else. My warmth was not the warmth she needed, but the warmth of someone. I felt almost guilty being me’ and it is with such delicate descriptions that Murakami handles with such a gentle perfection that makes Norwegian Wood’ so enduring. With Naoko’s deteriorating mental wellbeing and Midori’s own personal battles, Toru is left having to choose between his past and his future. A must read book which serves a notably different insight to love, mental wellbeing and society than that of any Western book, Norwegian Wood thoroughly deserves your attention and admiration.
Words by Juliette Rowsell
Originally rejected by a number of American publishers but later released by a small independent French press, Lolita was banned for several years in the country. Presumably the idea of a middle-aged pervert being obsessed with a 12-year-old girl left a bad taste in some peoples’ mouths. When I first bought it, I slid it across the counter as I would a Jilly Cooper novel, feeling vaguely adult at purchasing such a raunchy book at only 14. Yet when I sat down to read it I was surprised to find that it was actually highly amusing at not at all pornographic, really.
Humbert Humbert, our narrator, is a fifty-something European man obsessed with ‘nymphets’, girls on the brink of puberty. The story, taken out of context, is completely inappropriate. He is immediately dislikeable – grotesque, sexual, perverted – but full of wit and humour. Lolita is the 12-year-old girl who he becomes obsessed with, the thing he never stops wanting because he never actually has her. However, the plot is really secondary to the writing; a labyrinth of language weaving subtle meaning and subtext throughout, Lolita is beautifully written and tells a disturbing story while never including a single explicit scene or making the reader feel anything more than mildly uncomfortable until afterwards. What is most astounding is that Nabokov, when writing the book, couldn’t even speak fluent English – of Russian heritage, he managed to write a novel that is now regarded as one of the most influential classic novel ever.
Words by Beth Butterworth
It would be absolutely impossible to talk about Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We without talking about George Orwell’s 1984. The books are incredibly similar, despite the former being relatively unknown.
As soon as I began the book, I was awash with rage. Who was this saboteur thinking he could rip-off Orwell’s masterpiece? The stylistic features were the same: the curve of the structure, the use of an omniscient domineering totalitarian, the homogeny of the proletariat, the use of a female protagonist as a symbol of subversion – it was all there! I did some research into this shady character Zamyatin and discovered that actually his book had been written first, as early as the 1920’s yet because he was living in Communist Russia the book had been furtively passed from intellectual to intellectual until it eventually ended up in the hands of George Orwell, who reviewed it for a literary magazine.
1984 can therefore almost be seen as plagiarism although there are certain differences between the books. For example, Orwell’s is much more overtly politicised, it uses much more rhetoric and the form is different, whereas We offers a more personal insight of events through its first person narration. Although this book did slightly dampen my opinion of 1984, it served to highlight the the extent of the influence form foreign writters on English Literature. Therefore, it’s clear that our superior attitude towards literature from our homeland needs to change.
Words by Beth Chaplow
For people in Scotland, Trainspotting was a refreshing take on storytelling because someone was finally writing about their community. Trainspotting gave an insight that was relatable, understandable and stylish. However, Welsh writes in a phonetic Scottish voice and the sight of the vernacular language is enough to drive away anyone that isn’t up for the challenging of having to read a whole novel with a Scottish accent.
Trainspotting focuses on a group of friends from Edinburgh with drug problems and takes the form of some vaguely interlinked short stories which give the reader an insight to a subculture that is both dark and frightening. However, Welsh’s narration will leave you snorting with laughter all the same. The characters are strangely loveable despite their shady lifestyles: even though their social class and bad habits often make people pass them up as hopeless, Welsh has them bubbling with personality, leaving you feel sympathetic towards their inability to rise above their drug addiction, class and lack of direction. ‘Trainspotting’ is a prime example of Irvine Welsh’s talent and so it comes as no surprise to me that he’s surpassed his ‘cult author’ categorisation.
Personally, I regard Trainspotting as a very fine piece of Scottish literature and I wouldn’t for a second hesitate to recommend it to you.
Words by Lisa