Review: 1Q84

Posted 24 March, 2015 by Lianne in Books / 12 Comments

1Q84
By: Haruki Murakami
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase

The year is 1984. Aomame is riding in a taxi on the expressway, in a hurry to carry out an assignment. Her work is not the kind that can be discussed in public. When they get tied up in traffic, the taxi driver suggests a bizarre ‘proposal’ to her. Having no other choice she agrees, but as a result of her actions she starts to feel as though she is gradually becoming detached from the real world. She has been on a top secret mission, and her next job leads her to encounter the superhuman founder of a religious cult. Meanwhile, Tengo is leading a nondescript life but wishes to become a writer. He inadvertently becomes involved in a strange disturbance that develops over a literary prize. While Aomame and Tengo impact on each other in various ways, at times by accident and at times intentionally, they come closer and closer to meeting. Eventually the two of them notice that they are indispensable to each other. Is it possible for them to ever meet in the real world?

OMG guys, this book has been sitting on my to-read pile for the longest time now O_O He has two books published and translated in English since and I still didn’t start reading this book (despite telling myself year in and year out that I will get around to it), lol =/ I’ve read quite a number of books recently and tackled my TBR list considerably that I decided now is a good time to start reading it (or else I won’t get around to it at all again this year). Contains spoilers ahead! (because this is going to be a very long review; you may just want to jump to the “Overall” heading at the bottom)

Okay, because this book is so long, not only were my notes very long, but to keep things organised I decided to divide my thoughts by book 😉

Book One

Gosh, how does one begin? Unlike Norwegian Wood (review; I’m trying to refrain from comparing but it is the first Murakami book that I read), my immediate reaction in reading the first few paragraphs was that the writing felt rather stilted, with a lot of unnecessary descriptions. I thought maybe it would just take a few chapters to get use to it, settle into the story. But by 10% into the novel, I wasn’t accustomed to it and just found the writing to be rather dry. The repetitiveness of certain details got vaguely annoying as the story progressed, as though the author had written each chapter at different intervals and needed to recap certain memories and events. Sometimes employing this kind of element works; in this case, it didn’t. The unnecessary descriptions left me feeling rather bored and lazy to continue; it’s like reading off an encyclopedia at times, not to mention characters like the Professor going off on a hell of a tangent.

The plot itself is rather curious, leaving the reader to wonder where exactly everything is headed. Aomame, one of the main charactes, recognises that something’s different about this world, that there was a subtle shift that only she picked up, but it’s not quite clear what it means or what it means for her or how does this affect her yet. It feels a bit meta, which I felt was confirmed when Tengo started divulging the details to reworking Air Crysalis; Tengo’s in our world, the details seem to crop up in Aomame’s world, how does this all connect? We’ll see…

I honestly almost DNF’ed this book halfway through this book because of the writing and because of the over-abundance of information about the characters’ sexual activities. Now, I’ve read books that featured sex, but this was just too much; it didn’t add to my understanding of the characters (in fact it made me think that sex was all that they thought about) nor did it really progress the plot. But I didn’t put the book down for two reasons: 1) my brother encouraged me to the continue, and 2) strangely enough I cared just enough about the charaters to continue reading. Aomame’s occupation surprised me, and her mission with the Dowager gives me Batman vibes; her world nad her story felt like a comic book world at times (but obviously facing real and serious issues of domestic abuse). Tengo’s story was also interesting regarding the story he’s editing, gives a sort of writer-didactic to work with. I found Fuka-Eri to be rather annoying though; her mysteriousness and strange way of conversing with people isn’t very endearing, I don’t see how this aloofness of hers is alluring to the people she encounters, Tengo included. So yeah, this book was slow, the writing stilted, but I’m found it strangely compelling.

Book Two

So book two starts off a bit better, especially for Aomame with her new mission; the latter half of book one sort of left her in limbo with nothing going on. Her entry into the cult to kill the Leader was really suspenseful, her discussion with the Leader very creepy. Tengo’s story, on the other hand, sort of drops after the book is published and receives accolades, and his story stalled the further along we go in this book, slippin into the “sex to pass the time!” edition of the novel. (God, seriously, no, enough with the sex, I don’t want the exact anatomical happenings going on there–and no, I was not desensitised by this stuff at this point to not care any longer). But meanwhile the connection between Aomame and Tengo is revealed over the course of this book (a-ha! I was right, Tengo was the boy Aomame held hands with all those years ago).

The meta elements of the story hits new heights with this novel, reaching a zen-sort of level that I don’t quite understand. There’s this weird meta-flip going on where Aomame comes to the conclusion that she’s in Tengo’s world via what she read from the book, while Tengo eventually ends up in parts of Aomame’s world. At one pint early in the novel I did start wondering whether Aomame was an actual memory of his but the Aomame we’re following was merely a construct of the story he was editing. There was a frustrating moment towards the end where their paths could’ve intersected, but alas, no, it could not be (as we have a third installment to follow up to).

Meanwhile, where’s Komatsu? I missed him and his erstwhile intentions. And bloody hell, Tengo’s last chapter involved a full recap of his life from childhood to adulthood which we already discussed in book one but he’s now retelling to his father. That could’ve been condensed to a simple paragraph 🙁

Book Three

I remember from the time my brother read this book (he read this book before me) that there was a third character POV that was introduced in this book. For the last two novels I was wondering which of the characters it was going to be. Ugh, it turned out to be Ushikawa, the creeper standing in the way of everything. Ugh, ugh, ugh. I knew he was connected to the Sagikawe somehow…

The start of this book however had an interesting recap of what’s happened to date in this story. After that, though, I didn’t care about Ushikawa’s little investigation into finding Aomame, who has gone into hiding; now it felt like a deconstruction of everything we’ve known to date. I would have appreciated the investigation a bit more if there had been gaps in the narrative, but at this point there wasn’t and therefore found his chapters a needless exercise (well, minus confirming that Aomame and Tengo were indeed classmates back then).

And after that the story once again stalls for the first half of the book. Aomame is holed up in an apartment, hiding from the cultists, while Tengo is watchin over his sick dad and wondering if he’ll ever see Aomame again. Basically were back to where we were in Book 2 *le sigh* (except Aomame’s suddenly pregnant! Blink and you’ll miss it 😛 ) The story doesn’t pick up until the second half when things move along thanks to the reappearance of Komatsu and Tamaru finally making a move (thanks guys!). And then things are also moving for Aomame and Tengo to meet–hurray! Though after Tengo establishes the meeting place and time, dammit, then he starts wondering whether or not he should meet Aomame. No, Tengo, now is NOT the time to be thinking this, especially after thinking about her non-stop since like, the start of the second novel! =/

Anyway, hurray, they finally meet. So the whole point of the 1Q84 was sort of a personal character journey through detours and stuff before coming to a point in their lives and with themselves where they can finally meet again and be together? Sort of? Ish?

Overall

So I made it. I read the giant that is 1Q84. And I personally don’t understand how everyone (okay, mostly critics) is calling this book a masterpiece. Okay, I can see the elements are there, it’s a complex interweave of genres and story elements and characters, but I feel everything is too convoluted by stilted dialogue and interaction, needless repetition and description, and a rather dragging plot. The repetition alone already turned me off, the constant sexcapades that, for the most part, added nothing moreso. I’ve read books where the details can be very immense and have enjoyed those books, but the descriptions and tangents were were extreme. This book I feel could’ve been trimmed a good 400-500 pages to be honest.

Granted, this book does touch on some important and heavy issues of domestic violence, and the first book was interesting in exploring some elements of the writer’s process and craft. Strangely enough, I cared for the main characters, which is probably the main reason why I slogged through this book (that and apparently me reading this book gave my brother some entertainment value, watching me all -_-;, so I guess it’s a win for all).

So overall, I’m happy to have finally read the book, but simultaneously it has left me feeling rather hesitant to pick up another Murakami. So tell me, friends, what do you think of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage? Is it more like Norwegian Wood or 1Q84?

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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12 Responses to “Review: 1Q84”

  1. I skipped the main part of your review because I didn’t want to see spoilers, but I think your ho-hum reaction is a fairly common for this book. At least, most of my friends who have read it haven’t liked it too much either… It definitely won’t be the next Murakami I read but I’d like to get to it eventually. Interesting to hear it deal with domestic violence too. I like what I’ve read by him but it always seems to have a mildly sexist undertone, so I’m curious how he handles it.

    • That’s interesting, a lot of my friends on GR loved the book but I find myself feeling like I missed something :3 I was surprised that it addressed the issue of domestic violence in some fashion, though in retrospect it felt more like a plot point as it dropped out of sight by the third book.

    • lol, and it took me how long before I finally got around to reading it? (and alas, with good reason) I highly recommend Norwegian Wood if you ever decide to read something from him, it’s (far!) shorter and much more accessible 🙂

  2. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is a lot like Norwegian Wood as it is more straight fiction and doesn’t have the magical realism threads. I was not a fan of 1Q84 but I’m not sure if it was a weak book or the translations. 1Q84 was translated by two translators and I hear they had to rush to get the book out so may have been the biggest problem.

    • Thanks for the info about Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki…! I love magical realism but yeah, this is one of the few books where it just didn’t work for me. Interesting note about the translation, I wonder if it would’ve made a difference if it had been more carefully translated (though I still think it could’ve been cut down regardless).

  3. Huff, hear, hear! I read this book when it first came out and felt the same way. “Why does everyone love this?” When I finished reading, I wrote (in a melodramatic huff, because I was so over this book) that I felt like Frodo finally being rid of the Ring ^^; Tsukuru is much more similar to Norwegian Wood, as others have mentioned. I prefer Murakami’s more surreal works. My favourite is Kafka on the Shore, which I just realized is set near where I’m living now so I’m eager to reread it!

    • lol, yes, I remember seeing your review of GoodReads about it! *goes back to read it again* But yeah, same here, a lot of friends over there loved this book but I’m sitting here feeling like I missed something completely xP

      Thanks for the info about Tsukuru, perhaps I will check it out…eventually, lol.

  4. This seems like waaaay too much of a time commitment. I’m sorry you didn’t like it! I probably won’t read it now. I first read a book of Murakami’s short stories, which I adored. Then I tried Colorless Tsukuru, which I really didn’t like very much. I mean I liked the writing, but the story/character were ehhh. Maybe I should just read Wind-Up Bird Chronicle finally.

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