Book review: 1Q84

1Q841Q84 by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

1Q84 is a meandering work. It’s not a quick read, though that’s not because it’s difficult: rather, it’s because Murakami takes his time savouring plot elements. He chews the characters over. In some ways, it’s Murakami-by-numbers – there’s ear fetishism, music fetishism and other standard tropes – but it also bears an unexpected shout-out to his non-fiction writing. Underground‘s explanation of cult terrorism certainly appears to have influenced the story here – it’s hard to see some of the cult imagery here without Shoko Asahara coming to mind.

At heart, this is a love story. It’s surrounded by weirdness, and it slips between worlds, but it’s the tale of two people and their journey to find each other. Sounds twee, but Murakami has always been about solitude and its alternatives. I don’t want to give away the ending at all, but the book has as much to say on life alone as it does on life with someone – and there’s as much meditation on the search for meaning independent of relationship status as there is specifically geared towards partnership.

The book doesn’t feature full-on weirdness a-la the Rat series of books. There’s some creepy characters, and exploration of the idea of tulpa-style figures, as well as some blurring of reality and mythology – surely I can’t be the only one to think of tengu every time I read the name Tengo? – but the feeling is mostly of a normal world. There’s some fucked-up elements to it, but it’s not a radical departure.

Though some have found the length of the book a bit problematic, I didn’t think it worked against the story. The sedate pacing evokes both the moon – an important figure in the tale – and Proust. The fact a major character parcels out their time with Proust’s masterwork seems to signpost the leisure with which Murakami approaches this book. There could have been editing, that’s for sure – there’s a lot of repetition, and it’s hard to tell whether it’s intentional or just laziness, or bad translation – but the length is mostly digestible. It’s a very odd pace, though; it meanders when you wish it would rush a little more.

There are some problems with the book, though. Plot threads are left hanging, unresolved. This is weird when a lot of the story focuses on the role certain small characters play on the motivation of the weird, faceless cult which drives much of the narrative. To have that kind of thing left unresolved in a book of this length seems to be an oversight.

Still, as an evocation of Tokyo and an exercise in writing about duality, mirrors and weird, not-quite-tangible differences between reality and dream, it’s worth reading.

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