Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Murakami's 1Q84

“…pure solitude and tranquility. That was the best thing the moon could give a person.” – 1Q84, p 528.

It's been a while since I’ve finished 1Q84. I've sat down a number of times to write my reactions, and I’m finding it difficult to do. Partly because the book was such a monster - at 925 pages, it took me almost a full month to read - and because my dislike of the ending colored the rest of the book. I wanted to be careful.

Murakami’s 1Q84 starts with a bang, or more specifically, a song and a vivid description of Aomame - a sharp dressed woman - escaping from a freeway parking jam by climbing down a multiple story fire-escape ladder – a tale that would have made a good short story in and of itself. It gets even better when we find out that Aomame is an assassin – one trained at a unique, untraceable form of killing at that! – and we’re off to the races. The novel alternates chapters between Aomame and Tengo, another of Murakami’s passive males, who gets pulled into a ghostwriting scheme. The two stories leisurely percolate along, both very entertaining in their own right; both of the characters are well fleshed out, and they both find themselves in bizarre circumstances that, like the best of Murakami's novels, could go in any direction. My only quibble is that I found Aomame to be the most masculine female character I’ve seen in a major novel - even her sexual escapades – and there are many of them, surprisingly - read like what a male would imagine (fantasize?) a female wanting. I didn't find her believable as a woman, but despite this, Aomame’s toughness and mystery made her my favorite character in the book, at least until part three.

And that’s the rub. Part three of 1Q84 was not good.  The first two sections were sprawling, obscure, with dead-end subplots and thousands of hints of something deeper beneath it all – and it was fascinating! Little by little we learn that Tengo’s ghostwriting story might not be fiction after all, but instead describe a mysterious race of “little people” that permeate and control the world - and, oh yea, it might not be our world after all, but an alternate reality of some kind, one with two moons in the sky and enough subtle changes to throw everything askew. In short, it's a riveting tale, and one beautifully written in Murakami’s singular prose. But like a poorly paced runner, Murakami runs out of gas in part three. While it may be unfair to judge the three sections as a complete whole – apparently he had finished and published parts one and two and only later decided to put out another 300 pages - I don’t understand what he was hoping to accomplish with his ending. Part three rides an unsatisfying middle road: it didn't resolve any of the important plots that kept me riveted  (who exactly are the little people anyways? What are they trying to accomplish?) or it spelled out situations in too much detail (I personally didn’t need to see Aomame and Tengo get together). This problem is exasperated by two major flaws in part three – Murakami’s continual repeating of themes and phrases  to the point of annoyance (mainly around Aomame’s taking care of “the little one”) and introducing the point-of-view of the repugnant Ushikawa whose purpose here I don’t comprehend.  The failure of part three, while not ruining the book, definitely left a bad taste in my mouth. It didn't tell me anything that parts one and two hadn’t already told me, nor did it present any new “wow” moments.

In the end, though, a flawed Murakami book is still better than 99% of the books out there. I still remember the feeling of anticipation I held onto all day long as I waited to get back to the book at night. 1Q84 holds a place of honor on my bookshelf, because I'll definitely be reading this book again – only this time, I’ll stop after section two.

Cross Posted at Reading, Running and Red Sox

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