1Q84 Review – Q & A with Yours Truly (Part Two of Three)

We’re continuing our lengthy look at Haruki Murakami’s latest work, so here’s another gentle reminder that people who haven’t completed the book yet may wish to come back another day – I don’t want anyone to be disappointed by stumbling across secrets they have yet to uncover for themselves 🙂

*****
So, we’ve looked at what it’s all about, but there’s still something we haven’t discussed – is 1Q84 any good?
That’s a very good question (thank you Tony!), and it is one which is not that easy to answer.  It is not at all difficult to pick holes in this novel as Murakami’s imagination can often leave the reader scratching their head, wondering what exactly he is up to this time.  Be that as it may though, there are several areas in particular that really make you cringe.

One of those is, of course, the suggestions of underage sex inside the cult.  Although the exact details of this later become blurred (we’re not really sure who these girls are, or if they’re even human, and Leader claims not to be able to do anything about it), the fact is that Murakami writes about ten-year-old girls having sex and then dumps the idea somewhere in a corner.  I actually thought, after finishing Book One, that the idea of sexual abuse would be the dominant idea of the novel, but Murakami seems to be merely using it as a plot device to move things along.  I don’t like that at all…

Another issue I have is the large amount of information Murakami dumps into the story.  Part of the pleasure of reading his books is the way the narrative sweeps you along; you may not know what is going on around you, but you feel that the narrator, often a first-person point-of-view, is in the same boat. In fact, the metaphor of a boat, floating downstream towards the rapids, is an apt one for the usual style of Murakami’s fiction.  However, the constant stopping and starting in 1Q84, waiting around for back stories to be filled in (or for information to be repeated for the nth time) is frustrating.  Book Two suffers particularly from this, and it’s not exactly something that enhances the reading experience.

I can’t finish my summary of the negatives without mentioning what could well be the silliest part of the book.  No, not that sex scene; while not exactly great writing, it was inevitable, and I could see where it was going.  I’m talking about the little people, or as I like to think of them, the seven Japanese dwarfs.  If anyone can actually think of a reason for them to be in the book, a real need divorced from the supposed voices Leader hears, or the need for someone to construct the air chrysalis, please let me know.  I really don’t see what Murakami thought he was doing here – didn’t he realise how stupid that whole idea seemed?

Before you all start tearing up your copies of 1Q84 though, let’s look at the other side of the story.  It’s not as easy to pick out reasons why the book is actually a good one (the negatives are a lot more immediate and tangible), but they do exist.  No, really, they do 🙂

One is that, for the Murakami fan, 1Q84 is the culmination of his life’s work, with themes and ideas explored in earlier novels drawn together into one over-arching work.  In the first of my more tongue-in-cheek looks at the book, I was allegedly torn between this idea and criticising Murakami for repeating himself.  The truth is that I admire the way he has constructed the book, using the parallel narrative structure of Hard-Boiled Wonderland…, the usual everyman protagonist (e.g. The Trilogy of the Rat) and the societal concerns he has for Japan (e.g. A Wild Sheep Chase, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Underground).  He has gone out on a limb with his attempt to tie it all together, and while it isn’t a complete success, he should be applauded for it.

Despite using the familiar though, 1Q84 is also full of new ideas.  The use of the third-person protagonists sets the book apart from Murakami’s earlier work, and the introduction of a major female character, Aomame, is also a welcome addition.  Even within the book, the introduction of a third voice in the final book is a big surprise, and one which sheds new light on the story.  Ushikawa (who, incidentally, may have originally appeared in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle..) is key to understanding the story, the price he pays for his loneliness a contrast to what happens to Aomame and Tengo.

The best thing I can say about 1Q84 though (and I know that not everyone will agree with this) is that it is an absorbing read.  The version you can see in the photo above was approximately 930 pages, but I never really felt that it was outstaying its welcome.  The story, while ludicrous at times, pulled me along in its wake, always making me stay for just one more chapter.  The concept of the meta-fictional Air Chrysalis is a brilliant one, and the idea of the beautiful – if slightly robotic – face of a book is one which probably happens more than we would like to admit (yesterday, on Twitter, a few of us were discussing who Murakami’s inspiration for Fuka-Eri actually was!).  By twisting the two (then three) strands around, the reader is offered a fuller flavour of what is happening, allowing us to get our heads around the writer’s intentions.  I’m not saying it always works…

So, after all that waffling, the answer is… sorry, what was the question?  Oh yes, is it any good…  I would argue that while it is by no means Murakami’s best work, 1Q84 is a very interesting novel, and one which will reward those who reread it (especially those who have already ploughed their way through Murakami’s earlier books).  The question, of course, is how many people will be prepared to reread a book of this length 🙂  There’s also one final factor which needs to be considered when answering this question, one I haven’t yet touched upon, and that is…

…what I’ll be looking at in my last 1Q84 post – promise 😉

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6 thoughts on “1Q84 Review – Q & A with Yours Truly (Part Two of Three)

  1. Many people reread book's of this length. Little children read complete Tolkien and Twilight sets without hesitation.

    What sort of tradition is Murakami writing in? I ask because you make him sound awfully Pynchonian, which might be wrong. “Stopping and starting… waiting around for back stories to be filled in” (stories that in Pynchon will never be filled in).

    The single greatest part of Gravity's Rainbow is the Byron the Bulb episode, the biography of a sentient light bulb. It is a pretty stupid idea, and also sublime.

    I haven't read 1Q84 – just Hard-Boiled Wonderland many years ago. So I'm just thinking aloud about ways to answer the “Is it good?” question with this kind of book.

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  2. From your comments I agree the metafiction concept is briliant. i admire Murakami for attempting a book people will in fact want to compare to the great novels of the world. like you I am baffled by the need for the little people. I think once I jd it in my mind that they were going to burst into song any moment i it hard to take the book seriously. Maybe i would be up for a 2013 reread ot if with an open mind. book blog opnion seems turning against the book more and more.
    Y

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  3. Tom – But do many people reread something of this length which they weren't quite sure about the first time around? Fans like myself will definitely be giving this another shot, but the more casual reader…

    I haven't read any Pynchon (I've read very little modern American literature), but Murakami has been described as a very American writer. When I read Auster's New York Trilogy, I spotted similarities to Murakami within the first few pages 😉

    My next post might also put a different spin on things…

    Mel – I think opinion is fairly evenly divided on this one; however, I sense that a lot of people are becoming reluctant to read it because not everyone is keen on it (and, of course, because of the length…). Again, my next post will discuss a possible solution to this problem – and possibly that of the little people 😉

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  4. It's the fans who keep re-reading, who keep the book alive. The casual readers may matter for making a book a hit, but not for the book's longevity.

    I remember Hard-Boiled Wonderland as being highly Pynchonian, so he would be worth a look for you. DeLillo, too, although for different Murakamian reasons.

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  5. I thought metafiction was probably the way to go with the ideas of this book & pynchon does make a fair comparison not so much in The telling but in the way he plays with the idea within the book & also the way readers react to his works making D. F. Wallace another in this authorly clique.

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  6. Tom – Unfortunately, I fear many reviews are keeping casual readers (and potential fans…) away.

    I may get around to Pynchon at some point, but with a wealth of world literature to enjoy, it may be a while 😉

    Gary – I'll take your word for it 🙂 To be honest, I'll be happy to get away from '1Q84' for a while – six posts are more than enough. Time for a change of pace!

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