Norwegian Wood is the first modern foreign book I've read and I felt its "differentness" immediately. It's a classic coming of age story and I've read numerous reviews putting it in the vein of Catcher in the Rye. Ok, so everyone loves Catcher in the Rye, but I have to admit that it's not my favorite high school lit book. For me personally, Norwegian Wood actually gave me the same feeling as my true favorite high school lit book, The Great Gatsby.
It's got the same aching hopefullness for a hopeless love. It's the same search for happiness in someone else. The main character has a similar detachment to the whole world, except for a deep (internal?) connection to a select few. It is even mentioned that Toru reads and re-reads the Great Gatsby throughout the book.
Anyway, ordinarily all these similarities would make me not like the book accusing it of unoriginality, but its real similarity lies in how it made me feel after reading the last page. In content and tone, it's entirely original, very different from anything I've read before. The characters are complex and rich but written very simply and beautifully. I've heard it's a really big departure from Murakami's other works, but I think I'll soon pick up The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.