Tuesday, February 21, 2012

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

The name is punny.  Get it, because the word for the number nine in Japanese is pronounced “Q.”  It doesn’t really have much to do with Orwell’s 1984 though, so I am not sure why he went with that title.  It may had made more sense to use a different but adjacent year to avoid comparisons.  The title, although punny, is just one example of poor forethought on this book though. 
I generally love Murakami’s books.  Well not including the last three.  Kafka on the shore wasn’t horrible, but it just came off as completely pretentious.  What I Talk About When I Talk About Running was completely pretentious and not very enjoyable at all.  I will summarize that one.  Murakami is better than you and knows more than doctors, when he tries hard he can do anything including running marathons while battling pneumonia and hooked up to a respirator after having both lungs removed (yeah he can even have pneumonia with both lungs removed).  Wait this is a review for 1Q84. 
This book is a hot mess.  Did Murakami edit this himself; maybe the day after he wrote it.  This was supposed to be his opus and I guess no one wanted to tell him that his signature piece was deeply flawed.  Well onto the flaws I guess.
  1. The translation sucks.  It is translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel.  The fact that it took two people to translate it says a lot to me.  Gabriel translated Kafka on the Shore, which I also thought had problems.  He seems to do direct translation of puns and idioms.  Rubin has translated my favorite Murakami books, so maybe he wasn’t too involved. 
  1. The book was too long.  For fun, I thought I would look for the longest book on my Kindle.  Oh look there is the Count of Monte Cristo that has to be it, right?  Nope, a bit further down beating it by like three dots, was 1Q84.  Not that long books aren’t good.  The Stand is a favorite and I enjoyed the heck out of the Count of Monte Cristo.  But this book has a tendency to repeat the same things over and over.  I get it, Aomame’s face looks scary when she is angry and Fuka Eri talks funny.  Please stop hitting me over the head with it. 
  1. There is no climax.  As usual, in a Murakami story, several of the characters do, but the story just never hits a high point.  I think any part that could have been a high point is weighed down with over philosophizing and self actualization.  Tengo and Aomame meeting should have been huge, but it just kind of sputters.  Aomame and the leader should have been great but apparently everyone in Japan talks in riddles and no one asks direct questions.  Either way, What felt like buildup towards a climax, never really climaxes.  We only get halfway up that hill before Murakami decides to take us around the long way. 
  1. Unresolved plot threads.  This story develops characters and makes them central to the story, until they aren’t and then it abandon’s them to never be seen or heard from again.  At the end, you hardly no more about anything than you did at the end.  What happens to those two Sakigake guys, the dowager, Fuka Eri, or even the little people. 
  1. Pedophilia.  Murakami has danced around this one in the past.  I am looking at you Wind up Bird.  Kafka has a younger man/older woman dynamic that society seems to find more acceptable, but 1Q84 has men sleeping with underage girls all over the place.  It is explained away but comes across as excuses so that Murakami could include these scenes that he obviously has always wanted to write.  But hey Tengo was paralyzed, so that makes it okay.  Not to mention that someone slipped Aomame a mickey, or it at least seemed that way. 
  1. Tengo is superman.  Tengo is perfect.  He can cook, he is clean, he is a brilliant mathematician and teacher, he lives frugally, he doesn’t watch TV, he is excellent at Judo, he is a great writer, he is a stud that woo anything female, he is an excellent musician that can learn an instrument in a week and then play complicated pieces of music at a concert the following week to great acclaim.  All this and the whole time you are reading him, he comes off as mildly retarded.  The character is completely unrealistic.  Aomame and Fuka Eri seem to be fantasies of what Murakami thinks the perfect women would be. 
Overall-This book was in serious need of an editor and took over a month and a half for me to read. It would often put me to sleep and at one point I just started scanning past paragraphs of inner dialogue at a time.  There are at least two points when the perspective of the novel changes mid chapter, which pulled me right out of the book.  Is there an interesting book in here, maybe, but you would have to go after what we were presented with an axe to find it.  Any of the flaws I found in of themselves wouldn’t completely ruin a book, but put them together and I find it impossible to recommend this book.  It felt like a waste of the large amount of time that I spent reading it.  Don’t read this book.  Read Wind Up Bird Chronicles thrice or Norwegian Wood four to five times instead.  This one sucked. 


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Doesn't sound like my kind of book!

Budd said...

Alex, I think people who will like this will be total book snobs that will lord over you that they read it in the original Japanese and that it has subtle nuances that western audiances could never hope to understand. They will also say that the story wasn't flawed but that I lack the intelligence to understand the stylistic risks that Murakami took and how the novel is groundbreaking, as long as read it in its original Japanese.

SteveB said...

Wow -- good review, Budd. I've been sort of curious about this book because I liked Wind Up Bird. I haven't heard anything really strong about this book so I think it's going to stay pretty low on my list.

DEZMOND said...

his books are rather popular here in Serbia too!