Newest Review: ... based on her story of life in a religious cult and the actions of the mysterious and supernatural "Little People". On the surfa... more
Interesting concept but overly long and, oh, the bad sex!
1Q84: Books 1, 2 and 3 - Haruki Murakami
Member Name: thefifth
1Q84: Books 1, 2 and 3 - Haruki Murakami
Advantages: Magical realism, interesting concept, worth it for the 'Little People'
Disadvantages: Overly long. Bad sex. Not his best work.
Let me start by saying I'm a big fan of Murakami. I was massively excited when I heard about this book and its reception in Japan. I pre-ordered my copies from Amazon and started reading as soon as I received the book. 1Q84 is split into 3 books, but for some strange reason they published books 1 & 2 together and then book 3 separately.
The story follows 2 primary characters: Aomame (Green Pea), a trim, sexy female assassin who kills men using accupuncture; and Toru, a lonely, ordinary kind of guy who is also a writer struggling to finish a book and a teacher on the side. Both stories exist separately but begin to draw together as the novel progresses, as they both become drawn into the world of 1Q84 - a strange, parallel world in which there are, amongst other things, two moons. Toru is drawn into this world when he is offered a job rewriting (illegally) a novel submitted to a competition; Aomame when she decides to walk to an assignation when stuck in a traffic jam on the motorway.
The story is very unusual and imaginative and full of interesting little touches. The connection between Toru and Aomame (they went to school together), Aomame's connection to religious cults. The strange 'Little People' who emerge from an 'air chrysalis' and form the basis of the story that Toru is re-writing. The novel contains a lot of the familiar Murakami motifs: a lonely, isolated young man; a 'well' (in this case a ladder) which leads to another world; cults; a strangely, disjointed or disconnected feel to the characters; glamourous women; jazz and whisky. There are even cats, though not talking ones this time. And Proust, if you can believe that.
My feeling about this book is that Murakami had an absolutely great idea but didn't quite pull it off. It's a long read, over 1000 pages long across the three books, but it could have been significantly shorter. In places it is boring, and in others it is just plain bad. In particular I found the female characters to be almost caricatures, almost as though they are more representative of a male fantasy of how they would like a woman to be - Aomame is slim and athletic, obsessed with her breasts and public area and goes out on the prowl for cheap sex. The other women are invariably large breasted and either sexless (Fuka-Eri - though even she is a vessel for sex) or highly, even dangerously sexed. The sex scenes are generally a bit cringeworthy - the book was shortlisted for the bad sex award; it didn't win but I can only assume that the winner was utterly dreadful. I think the book may also have suffered from having a different translator for part 3 to parts 1 & 2, as this almost felt like a different book.
That being said, there is a core of brilliance in this novel. It has a magical quality to it, particularly around the 'Little People' and the creation of the world 1Q84 which is both real and unreal, and this element is extremely intriguing. I also found Murakami's exploration of religious cults quite insightful, something which probably benefits from his examination of the Aum gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in his chilling book 'Underground'. There's a surprisingly feminist element, despite the fantasy figures and bad sex, in that Aomame's primary role as assassin is to protect women who have been subjected to domestic abuse which I found a positive part of the book.
My view on 1Q84 is that it's probably one for the hardcore Murakami fan, but that even those might find it disappointing. If you've never read a Murakami book before, I'd suggest picking up The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which is in my opinion his best work, or Norwegian Wood which is one of his most accessible. Or alternatively, his non-fiction book Underground which covers the Tokyo gas attacks is a worthwhile read.
Summary: Not for the first time Murakami reader