on February 7, 2012
I am definitely a Murakami fan, even though I think a lot of his books are a bit formulaic (young teenage girl and middle aged man team up, heading on a wacky adventure filled with cats, unexplainable events, and overly detailed descriptions of food and clothing).
This book would probably have gotten 4 stars out of me had it been 300-500 pages. It was simply too drawn out and overly descriptive, with many points (such as the two moons and Aomame's breasts) talked about over and over and over. I finished it because I DID want to know what happened at the end, but like many Murakami stories, you have to take the story as your own and make up an ending for yourself, as a lot is just left unclear.
I wouldn't say don't read this, but in the time it takes to read all 1000 of these pages, you could read 2-3 of his other more succinct books.
Overall: I was disappointed, though not upset I read it to the end.
This mega-fable by Haruki Murakami, while occasionally oblique, is a long, clear-voiced, and languidly paced story about conformity, and the ramifications of breaking free of the familial and social expectations that are placed upon us. There are legal, ethical and social expectations we are all subject to 'a priori' -- as both humans and citizens -- and there are the expectations custom-tailored for us by parents, siblings, friends and lovers -- as individuals. It imagines the 'multiverse' as something like an endless apartment complex made up of locked, sound-proofed and windowless suites. Every one of these earth-sized/universe-sized apartments have hidden passages linking them to an adjoining, otherwise hermetically-sealed unit, and rare individuals, prompted by extraordinary circumstances, can see and use these passages, stepping into a unit built just for them... perhaps by them.
The story follows two main characters, with connections to one another that are only apparent well into the narrative. But they are each the center of their own personal solar system; the moons and planets and satellites in each respective orbit are often eccentric, and as celestial bodies orbiting different stars collide, the tale moves into the strange gravitational stability of a binary star... a cruel galactic romance that sloughs off all orbital relationships and responsibilities. Similarly, they both encounter a second moon that no one seems to notice.
Both Aomame and Tengo were raised in difficult environments, albeit of very different kinds. Both characters make a choice that opens, for them alone, a door. Each of their respective doors will take them into an alternate universe, one with very slight narrative differences. Aomame labels this world '1Q84', as opposed to '1984', the world she came from -- the Orwellian connotations give further evidence of the 'individual vs, society' theme Murakami explores. At several points Orwell's novel is mentioned; instead of 'Big Brother', rewriting history and confusing the present, there are the 'little people'... instead of Big, little; instead of singular, plural; instead of a huge totalitarian machine that destroys and rewrites the past, tiny, mysterious people who remove certain individuals from their reality, to remake them in another.
After getting caught in a traffic jam, a simfonietta by Janacek heralds Aomame's fateful decision, with a mysterious taxi-driver as harbinger. Rather than missing her very important 'appointment', she uses an emergency stair pointed out by the cabbie, which takes her off the elevated expressway, and down to a city street below. Not long after, she gets her first clue that things aren't quite right, when she notices a police officer carrying a semi-automatic pistol instead of a revolver. Later, she learns that this change happened years previous, following a gun-battle between police and a group of political and religious radicals, an event she has no memory of.
For Tengo, a 'cram-school' math teacher and writer, his life suddenly leaves its well-established course when his associate and mentor Komatsu suggests a strange and risky idea. A teenaged girl named Fuka-Eri has submitted a story titled 'Air Chrysalis' for a high-profile new writer's competition. Tengo is impressed with the story, but both men agree that it can't win as it is, due to its rough, amateurish prose. Tengo finds his door, so to speak, when Komatsu suggests he rewrite Fuka-Eri's manuscript. Their plan is to combine Tengo's technical gifts as a writer with Fuka-Eri's imagination and raw talent as a story-teller, keeping his involvement a secret. Tengo is concerned about Komatsu's scheme, but feel's compelled to work on the manuscript. Fuka-Eri is one of the most important and enigmatic characters in Murakami's novel. When Tengo meets her he is struck by her beauty as well as her unusual personality. She speaks with a complete lack of emotion, and answers questions only when it suits her. He also learns that she is dyslexic, and it was actually her little 'sister' -- the daughter of Fuka-Eri's guardian Professor Ebisuno -- who recorded the tale as Fuka-Eri dictated. After meeting the Professor, and learning more of the mysterious girl's life -- Tengo steps through the door, and commits to revising 'Air Chrysalis', which turns out to be less fictional than anyone could believe such a fantastical tale to be. Secondary characters, like the Dowager, who conspires with Aomame to dispense vigilante justice, are just as intriguing, and new characters emerge as the story progresses, including a surprising figure from Fuka-Eri's past, and a repulsive private investigator.
The many characters and storylines of 1Q84 converge, coalesce, and sometimes diverge again. The complexity of the tale is never confusing, and Murakami's writing style has been translated with impressive clarity. The prose has an earnest concision that can say many things at once, or one thing with absolute precision. It's quite a feat, really; I have no idea to what extent the translators deserve credit for 1Q84's brilliance as an English-language novel -- echoing Tengo's dilemma as he rewrote 'Air Chrysalis' -- but I do not doubt that Murakami has created a powerful, profound work of fiction. I haven't read any of Murakami's previous works, but there was something about this story that reminded me of Roberto Bolano's '2666' -- both the meandering, almost haphazard feel of the plot from the outset, slowly tightening midway through, and the language; again, I will always find translations frustrating, on some level, especially with novels like 1Q84 and 2666. They're both purposely ambiguous; I worry that the translator might be twisting and confusing the original intent for the sake of style, or misrepresenting stylistic power in their concern for retaining presumed intellectual intent. If you could quantify it, would 1Q84 be 99% Murakami? 85%? 50%? In the end, you have to take the story as you find it, and trust the translator -- a thankless job, really; translators are seen as technicians instead of artists, despite the aesthetic sensibilities required -- rather than second-guessing a strange word choice, or trying to dig much deeper. But I liked it. As I said, I think the translation is excellent, stylistically. Translating Japanese to English is a far more difficult task than translating Spanish to English. The way 1Q84 was released, in separate parts, echoes way 2666 was released, and the two books have many thematic and stylistic similarities... I'm curious whether Murakami intended it, or if I'm imagining things.
on September 20, 2015
Haruki Murakami’s magnum opus “One Q Eighty-Four” or “ichi-kew-hachi-yon” (a play on the Japanese pronunciation of the year 1984, in reference to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four) is set in 1984 Tokyo. The story has been divided into three sections - April to June, July to September and October to December - and follows the arcs of Aomame, a fitness club instructor, Tengo Kawana, a novelist, and Ushikawa, a private investigator.
1Q84 is a surrealistic story that deals with different themes. This is the story of a mysterious cult with a dark secret; this is a story of retribution. This is a love story that transcends a universe; this is a horror story. This is a story that blurs right and wrong; this is a philosophical commentary. This is a murder mystery. This is a fantasy.
This is not a book that can be read casually. It is so rich with incident and meaning, it demands full attention - and full attention to the smallest detail. Every word and every act is there for a reason. From the crow on the balcony to the ominous end of “irretrievably lost” to Janacek’s Sinfonietta, everything will tie in and enhance the experience.
Like Murakami’s “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World” we see two parallel worlds - 1984 and 1Q84 - with small details of one being reflected in the other and small incidents in one seeping through to the other. From door-to-door NHK collections to door-to-door Jehovah’s Witness distributions, from the 10-year old Tsubasa to the 10-year old Eriko Fukada, from Komatsu’s reality to Aomame’s dream, from the town of cats to the town of Chikura, from maza to dohta, from Air Chrysalis to the real world … and in one grand saga, from 1984 to 1Q84 - this was the fantastic telling of a fantastic story.
on May 18, 2014
I like Murikami. I first read Wild Sheep Chase in the early 90s and was dumbfounded by his imagination and his ability to weave a narrative both in and out of the known reality without really entering into any genre like fantasy or sci-fi, though his imagination is certainly encompassing all of those things when he writes.
Now that he has reached epic proportions as a writer of international repute, I feel the need to be a little harder on him, and 1Q84 is my opportunity.
First, when assaying his books one has to ask what their edification is. I mean, when you're short-listed for the Nobel prize you should have something to offer the world, some direction, some path, at least if the role of the storyteller, the mythology is to hold a place in the modern world. If one is outside a formal contemplative life, like Buddhism or another form of inward journeying, then certainly Murikami is one of those artefacts of the novitiate, as in "I remember reading Murikami and thinking there was more to my life than I understood, and I knew that the answers I was looking for were inside me, like the well in Wind Up Bird Chronicles." And maybe this is enough for the accolades, that Murikami reminds us of the human inner life, the imagination and the object possibilities it has always presented, now given new life with physics and alternate dimensions and the Hadrian Collider, etc.. Fair enough. But does that mean a reader must outgrow Murikami? Possibly. I found myself reading him with a new level of criticism this time, as though i wanted him to fail. He didn't, per say; there is no failure in this latest offering. However, I noticed, perhaps for the first time, and I only say perhaps because maybe infatuation in a younger me picked up on these things in earlier reads but let them go, but his language is just plain bad at times. In fact, a lot of the time. Case in point:
"Just after one o’clock Saturday afternoon, Aomame visited the Willow House. The grounds of the place were dominated by several large, old willow trees that towered over the surrounding stone wall and swayed soundlessly in the wind like lost souls."
I can just imagine some unknown Murikami getting a rejection letter from her agent in which the editor points out this one sentence among many, indicative of a kind of repetition, the enemy of good prose. An old willow tree would be nothing but large, and if that is allowed to go unchecked, we are then told they tower over something....
Still, he's a great read, and if you still believe the world is a cogent, unbroken linear experience, then Murikami fills a purpose. He's kind of like a guided meditation, which always leads to being able to meditate upon life by oneself. I guess that's a good thing.
Those who hate this guy do so with a passion, finding him pointless and impossible to follow. To them I say, go back to Dean Koontz or Wuthering Heights. Go back to you controlled world of already experienced things and keep pretending there's nothing else going on.