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.