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Sunday, 29 January 2012
1Q84 - The Verdict
I had heard a lot of things about 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami before I read it. I am a massive fan, along with millions of others, so I was eager to see his new work. Due to living abroad, I patiently waited until Christmas and was given parts 1 and 2 as a present. I then bought book 3 as soon as I finished parts 1 and 2. In the end, I think this is what helped me...
Had I rushed out and bought the books right away, I think I might have felt a little differently. As it happens, the wait meant my expectations were not too over-inflated and I think I came to the book in a better state of mind. I was still excited sure, and worried to see some pretty negative reviews floating around.
So, a quick summary (if this is at all possible!): The trilogy is set in a fictionalised 1984, an alternate reality if you will, where one of the main characters decides to rename it '1Q84' (hence the title). In this world, the two main characters, Aomame and Tengo are inexplicably drawn to one another and over time, their worlds begin to collide more and more. The novel focusses on Tengo's rewriting of a book called Air Chrysalis by an enigmatic young writer (Fuka-Eri) and the consequences of this action. Fuki-Eri's past of being part of (albeit it unwillingly) a religious 'cult' called Sagikate begins to surface and the unusual events described in the rewritten novel begin to look more real than Tengo first thought, beginning with the appearance of two moons in the sky. Aomome meanwhile, moonlights as a skilled killer of abusive men and all too soon, she too is dragged into the world of the Sagikate cult and the mysterious 'Little people' who are said to have great power but hardly anyone seems to be able to explain or want to acknowledge.
Whilst I don't think 1Q84 is quite as good as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles or Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, it still kept me gripped. I wanted to know what was going to happen and I wanted both the main characters to survive. The tension about whether they would get to meet again (after seeing each other last when they were only 10 years old) was definitely strong and I hoped they would meet before one of them was found by the Sagikate cult. Therefore, despite some bad reviews, this is why I think 1Q84 is a good book. If I cared enough to want the charaters to survive, that tells me it was a good read.
I also cared about some of the side characters. Fuki-Eri was a strange character who was quite amusing to read. She was described very well and the scars of her past were evident in her strange manner and almost oblivious perspective of the world. Tamaru, the security man for the elderly woman who employs Aomame, is an intelletual and comforting presence. I liked the way he mentioned to Aomome that Chekov believed once a gun appears in a novel, it must be used. This was an added bit of tension as to whether Aomame would need to shoot anyone or herself at some point in the future. Tengo's friend and editor, Komatsu was also quite an interesting and sometimes amusing character.
However, there were a few characters that didn't work quite as well. I found the chapters in book 3 told by the private investigator, Ushikawa, quite dull at times. I didn't mind the fact that his investigation was a bit pathetic and yielded no results, I just found the details a little boring and his family history even more boring. I have to say I did skip some of these parts. Also, the nurse (Kumi) that Tengo meets whilst visiting his sick father seemed to be a bit too much of a construct used by the author to implant specific phrases and information in Tengo's mind. I didn't really enjoy her presence.
I have read some other criticisms online - mainly to do with repetition and sex scenes in the novel. With these criticisms, I can agree slightly. There are some points where information is repeated by the same character or by both the narrators in different chapters. This was a bit unnecessary and could have cut the book down a little with removing these alone. Also the sex scenes - they were sometimes not written as well as other parts. Additionally, there is quite a few mentions of breasts, as one person pointed out on Amazon. Sometimes it was no problem but sometimes it seemed a bit too much of a fixation. Once you notice something too much in a novel, it probably means it has been overdone a little. Lastly, the use of italics to portray character's internals thoughts were a bit too numerous, sometimes spanning several paragraphs. If it was a character's perspective in the chapter, I am not sure why so many italics were needed.
But despite these things - I really enjoyed 1Q84. It's not perfect but as I said, it kept me turning the pages. I enjoyed the two main charaters and believed in them. I liked the presentation of the strange Sakigake cult and the unusual aspects of it. Murakami's usual strangeness was definitely present. To keep everything going for about 900 pages is quite an achievement. There was conflict between the cult and everyone else, between Tengo and his father, between Aomame and her conscience, and between the characters and their pasts. Strangely, there were also odd moments of humour. I think the dialogue was also good overall and I enjoyed the exchanges between chracters, particularly Aomome and Tamaru, who often had some interesting and wide-ranging exchanges.
So in conclusion, don't believe the hype or the criticisms. I would advise you to try reading 1Q84 yourself and remember that although Murakami is a giant of literature, he isn't always completely perfect.