Tuesday, September 8, 2015

1Q84, by Haruki Murakami - review

My rating: 2/5

Murakami is a seasoned and dedicated runner, and draws many parallels from his joint universes of running and writing. In distance running, it’s important to move forward, to find the pace that suits the distance, to avoid friction and unnecessary energy expenditure, find a rhythm and occupy the mind with music and daydreams to allay the monotony.
He seems to apply the same to his writing. The plot moves forward, the characters patiently pursue whatever is awaiting them in the barely-discernable distance, and bounce along avoiding getting hurt and keeping their heads level with the horizon. Then, toward the end, an all-out sprint that releases a cascade of adrenaline and it’s done. His plot is on a path from which he does not veer, his characters are always in character and self-coherent, there are no superfluous digressions, the whole is like a well-greased machine that glides forward, seemingly effortlessly.

(spoilers ahead)

The novel has two main characters: Tengo and Aomame. Tengo is a math teacher and writer, whose writing talent is stymied by some form of writer’s block until he does a rewrite of a strange girl Fuka-Eri’s story about mysterious Little People who enter this world to build air chrysalises, which may or may not be made up, who knows. Fuka-Eri asks questions that don’t end in audible question marks, which adds to her strangeness. Tengo has known Aomame from his school days and retains an intense memory of her, of the one time she held his hand and peered deeply into his eyes. Aomame is a martial arts instructor with a fetish for intense sex with middle-aged men with thinning hair that may be proxies for Murakami, who knows. She also dabbles in contract killing of abusive husbands, contracts given to her by a rich dowager who is referred to as the dowager, whose security by a burly gay man named Tamaru, who may be a contract killer himself, who knows.

This is how the plot moves forward: Tengo rewrites Fuka-Eri’s story and in the process is drawn closer to her, thus learning of her past in a a cultish organic farming institution called Sakigake. Aomame kills abusive husbands and is introduced to the women who have retreated from them, among which Tsubasa, who escaped from the Sakigake compound. Ramification point identified. Oh, and Aomame’s world is strangely different from our own, because the police carry berettas, not revolvers like she seems to remember, and by-the-way don’t look now but there are two moons in the sky just like, it is revealed, is the basis of Tengo’s novel.

(end spoilers)

I’ll admit I was bored during much of my reading of this novel, though the strangely familiar strange elements make up for it. I expected more grit, more dissonance and friction and pain. My main problem with it is that it’s a long and slow-paced read, but the various hints it sheds along the way, so many little promises, don’t deliver.

There’s not enough character evolution to justify such a long read. Not enough world buiding. The narrative doesn’t take us to the places where we want to go, the places we’re curious about. The depictions of the boiling perils turn into roadside puddles. The magical realism doesn’t seem necessary. The characters, initially well fleshed out, stagnate in their inital cast.

And so, having gotten through it, I can only turn to other potential readers and say, “Don’t bother.”

No comments:

Post a Comment