Murakami: 1Q84

I made the hideous mistake of unabashedly disliking Haruki Muarakami’s novel 1Q84 in front of someone who had just started reading it and I may never forgive myself for it. So, allow me this moment to redeem myself and explain my position on subject.

You see, I LOVED The Wind Up Bird Chronicles so much. That book did so much for me. It reminded me that there was still a lot that a novel could do. It was the first unapologetic piece of surrealist literary fiction that I had read in a modern context. I needed that book to exist if I was ever going to hope to write the kind of fiction that I like to write.

I could hardly wait to read 1Q84 and as soon as it became available on KOBO, I was on it. I started reading right away, expecting to be otherwise unavailable for the entire 1031 page duration.

Very quickly, I felt obviously manipulated by the author. I could sense that this book was written to be a “great work”. I didn’t believe in the characters or their motivations and I could barely slog through the clunking, repetitive prose. There was nothing of the subtle, brave Murakami who wrote The Wind Up Bird Chronicles. This was in your face, heavy-handed, bludgeoning the reader to death with over sentimentalized symbolism.

I thought to myself that, surely, this is a translation issue. Or, 1Q84 had suffered the same fate that most serialized novels do with its redundancy, over explanation, and over exposure. And I might have been able to excuse him from it if it hadn’t been so consistently boring as a result.

It seems impossible that a novel taking place in two universes at the same time, with magical creatures, long-lost loves, weird sex and monsters could be boring but it was.

One explanation of my disinterest might be a result of nothing really happening. The characters are mainly self-reflective and the bulk of the novel is their ongoing inner dialogue that, incidently, doesn’t change much from start to finish.

The female protagonist, Aomame didn’t need one reason to be a super sexy assassin, she needed all the reasons. The male protagonist seemed to have no motivations for anything, he was just moving from chapter to chapter based on his intuitions of how things would go. And Fuka Eri, the conduit between the two, seemed like a thinly veiled school girl fantasy. Finally, a third perspective, Ushikawa, arguably my favorite, is introduced to the work, two-thirds of the way through with no great yield, if you ask me.

It’s got all the elements of a Murakami novel, there’s surrealism and magic and history. But, the mechanics are obvious. I am aware of the writer in every stroke and plot point. Reading it, I felt a lot like Dorothy must have, catching the Wizard hiding behind the curtain.

The only thing that kept me going were the incorporated short stories of Air Chrysalis and The Town of Cats which maintained that familiar Murakami simplicity. And I thought that the Air Chrysalis story was the kind of genius that only Murakami could write.

I only wish he hadn’t aspired to such a lofty goal and stuck to the story. I would read Air Chrysalis. I wish he had written that.

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5 thoughts on “Murakami: 1Q84

    1. Great review. I agree. Even though 1Q84 caused a lot of swearing around my house, I somehow, have it in me to read the next book. I will be expecting a miracle, though. I don’t envy him.

  1. My feelings about the novel are very similar to yours, only you have expressed them so much better! I agree that the stories within the novel were way more interesting than the novel itself, and I was especially frustrated by Aomame’s character arc.

    1. Thanks for sending me your review. It’s nice to hear your thoughts. Awesome that you found the book so inspiring! Hopefully, I can adopt your optimism for the next book.

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