Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Premature Book Review: 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami, 2011)

I have been a fan of Haruki Murakami for some time now. I am particularly fond of Kafka on the Shore, The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, and A Wild Sheep Chase. I was understandably excited that a new book by the author was out and got it as soon as it was available. The new book is 1Q84.

I have finished the book, which might lead one to wonder why I am still listing it as a "Premature Book Review" rather than simply a review. Two thing; one, I call most all of my reviews "Premature" as that is the feature's title, and two because I am concerned that I need to give it another read.

The basic story is of Tengo Kawana, a maths prodigy who grew to teach maths at a cram school (Japanese examination preparation school) who is also an aspiring author. His "friend" Komatsu who is an editor gets him involved with reworking a book written by seventeen year-old Eriko Fukada, aka Fuka Eri, who has written an amazing story which is told in a not-so amazing way. Komatsu convinces Tengo to rework the text so that it may win a new author's prize. This is fraudulent activity, so Tengo is uneasy, but once he begins writing he is sucked into the work.

The other side of the story involves Aomame, a girl that Tengo knew from grade school who has grown up to be an assassin. She becomes involved with Tengo from another side of the story, and the two are unaware of each other's involvement. Both the book, and Aomame's final victim, are associated with a religious cult. The cult in unhappy about the book, and the assassination and are out to get both of them.

I enjoyed the book a great deal, but found myself getting lost at times. It is quite long, weighing in at 925 pages, and previous portions become rather clouded. Murakami is good about refreshing your memory when these clouded points become important again, but I tend to feel this is poor form. If your argument is too long for the salient points to remain in the reader's mind, then you need to start trimming some of the fat.

Another problem is the supernatural aspect. All of Murakami's fiction is supernatural. You expect it, however he still tries to sneak it in on you, and it is not typically blatant. This is in many ways his most obliquely supernatural book, which detracts from the magic. In Kafka on the Shore, for example, the supernatural aspects rear their heads rarely but with great force. Even his previous novel, After Dark, which is not a favorite of mine had such forceful scenes that created legitimate fear in the reader. That is perhaps what 1Q84 is missing. There is no serious sense of horror. The most dangerous inhumans are more comical that fear-inducing, and even the danger from the cult seems rather bland, particularly when compared to the faceless man of previous novels, or the vicious Johnny Walker of Kafka on the Shore.

Murakami completists will definitely want to check this one out, but for new initiates it is not his best work. I do not intend to be too hard on the man, he has after all given us several really solid novels and a legion of worthy short stories; much more than many renowned authors have been capable.


T. Roger Thomas said...

I'm impressed that this work made it to the top of the list of Amazon 100 works of fiction for 2011.

Good review!

Darius Whiteplume said...

I fear he might be living off past successes here. It is not a bad book, but certainly not one of his best.

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