Endless Reads Review: 1Q84

 

Weight without heft

 

I have reached the end of nearly a thousand pages of Murakami’s three-volume work and have sat letting my thoughts marinade for a while and finally, finally, I think I’m ready to write about it and move on.

 

Was it a slog? Was it an intellectually-challenging book which kept me furrowing my brow over the complexities and playfulness of language? No.

 

Was it a total piece of fluff – I’m inclined to say yes, but others might disagree with me.

 

I described 1Q84 a few posts ago as a big souffle with jelly beans in it, and I still hold that view. Souffles are notoriously difficult, and Murakami does not quite pull this one off, though it almost looks as if he might. There are little bits of egg in the mix, little doughy bits of flour. So, the plot of the novel is too long for me to delve into here, and further, recounting it would probably just make reading it unnecessary – it’s one of those ‘the story is the story’ pieces. But for me, the twists and turns of plot felt mostly arbitrary – a few threads the author had chosen to weave together, to no discernible purpose.

 

In the end, most of the main tensions of the novel are not so much not resolved (which can be tantalising, leaving room for the reader to go exploring on their own) as dropped. Main characters wander off, the mystery is explained away as fiction, the ‘Little People’  – the sinister multiverse-shifting baddies of the novel, and the novel within the novel – snuffed out with no satisfying, or even unsatisfying encounter. ‘oh well, it was all an alternative reality’ doesn’t add much. If the language had been exciting, that might have helped paper over the cracks. But it was fairly straightforward, even turgid at times.

 

Also of note: number of references to the breasts of female characters, either from themselves (worrying about size) or from male observers thinking how perfect they are (uh huh). It started to wash over me after a while, because it happened so frequently. Other motifs: what people are wearing, each step of how they cook their dinners, Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cruel cult, the magic of hand-holding, Oedipal fantasy stuff that was poorly developed.

 

Despite these irritations, 1Q84 is fun and engaging, and mostly hurries on at a good pace. It’s as easy to read as pringles and jaffa cakes are to eat, and about as remarkable, for all its superficial colourfulness and weight. Some of the chapters which follow Tengo (the male lead character) and his strained relationship with the man who may or may not be his father, are quite moving, as are those in which Aomame (the female lead character) meets with a wealthy but lonely and vengeful dowager (another of the bit-players who disappears off the map). I think 1Q84, at its heart, is  an Ideal Romance, and Ideal Romances, as you may know, are inherently static. They merely give the appearance of action – of separation, risk, danger, excitement. At their centre they hold steady around a solid, immutable love. If you know that, going in, perhaps you’ll be happier to excuse all that stuff whizzing round your head.

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12 Comments

Filed under 2012, Endless Reads 2012

12 responses to “Endless Reads Review: 1Q84

  1. Wonderful description of ideal romance, a narrative form I have never considered.

    • I’ve read a few of the Ancient Greek ones – the form has changed on the surface a lot, but hardly at all underneath. Not quite the power, say, of a fairytale. But close.

  2. Murakami can be frustrating at times to read. I wonder if he will ever write a book with a real conclusion? 1Q84 is the sort of book that you have to wallow in and not question too much.

    • I have only tried reading ‘Kafka on the Shore’ and had to give up because I had that realisation that it wasn’t going to go anywhere. 1Q84 is perfect wallowing material if you are in the mood!

  3. Your review captures my own sentiments–although I found the pace unbearably slow. I kept asking myself, “where is the editor in all this?”

    • I definitely asked myself that! It was almost 1Q84 – the cookbook at times. But I read it quite quickly. Maybe because I wasn’t terribly invested.

  4. Usually Murakami reviews are effusive, but I keep hearing very mixed things about this one. Have you read any of his short story collections? I liked The Elephant Vanishes.

    • No, never. I was so repelled by Kafka on the Shore that it took the publishers very kindly giving me this one, for me to actually bother to read him again. It has rehabilitated him in my mind, somewhat.

      • Oh, interesting…I started with Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Norwegian Wood is more of a straightforward coming of age story, if you’d ever like to try him again.

  5. ST: These comments on IQ84 remind of the criticisms that a lady made some time back on WP regarding The Tale of Genji–that the plot was slow, even ponderous, that the main characters kept leaving the story (usually via death), that the story was too long, and the characters were unsympathetic. I think the main problem with Japanese novels is that they are the product of genuinely alien society–forget all the westernization, these people’s roots are in Buddhism, a reverence of the beautiful that might well be regarded as pathological in the West, and an indirection in manner and style that would drive an Anglo-Saxon berserker insane. Then there is the difference in language and the lack of translators able to work with Japanese–especially when confronting a 1,000-plus-page text.

    These people invented the novel (a Japanese lady, no less). Isn’t there a sutra that contains no text–offering just the blank page to the reader? RT

    • It’s interesting you say that, because I’m about half way through The Tale of Genji (as you’ll see on my Goodreads bar). It is extremely slow moving, but I really enjoy it when I do pick it up -I find it immersive and beautiful. It does show a world very different from the traditions of Western lit of that period and later, but not as stunningly unfamiliar as some of the stuff in Ancient Greek literature is to us now (I’m thinking especially in the AG’s relationship with deities, and the way they treated women, keeping them permanently indoors or dressing them in beards in the case of the Spartans). And these were the people that formed an integral part of the root of Western thought.

      Perhaps it’s because I’m not terribly ‘Anglo-Saxon berserker’ (the beserkers were Vikings, by the way), but I’ve never found an absence of plot to be an impediment. Slows me down, perhaps (Proust, with all his plot, is an even slower read). Ditto on unlikeable characters. In Murakami’s case, there is plenty of plot, believe me. It’s just scrappily tied together. I don’t think it’s a matter of lining him up as a product of Ancient Japanese writing or Buddhism. In fact, that’s worrying in its ‘othering’ tendencies. Just as I wouldn’t say that when I write, I work from the oral stories of my forebears – Outside influences abound – you only have to play spot the book reference/jazz single in Murakami to see that. Murakami is a best selling novelist with what seems to be very clearly translated works. If you’d like to read more Japanese fiction, I’d suggest Banana Yoshimoto, or further back, Yukio Mishima, and those are just two names off the top of my head.

  6. Pingback: An Endless Year in Review | Schietree

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