This year I rather bravely attempted a bookish challenge, consisting of reading many different genres.
For the Modern Fiction category I read 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.
I’m not going to enjoy writing this review. Because, to be clear from the get-go, I did not enjoy this book. The 1108 pages (ebook version) went by painfully slowly. It took me more than a month to finish.
And whereas when you enjoy a book it’s rather easy to write a review, one must substantiate not enjoying a book. As one who enjoys writing myself, I consider that common courtesy.
GoodReads blurb: A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 [...] Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.
Problem #1: The blurb is misleading. You’re thinking some subtly hidden science fiction about a parallel universe, right? Well you’d be wrong. The concept in this novel is not a parallel existence at all, merely an altered state of mind.
Problem #2: This book is really long and while I take my hat off to anyone who can write such a long novel, I think there are limits to how descriptive one needs to be. Entire chapters in 1Q84 are of no value to the story line.
A book that annoyed me similarly was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson: the difference being that Larsson managed to tie up all the loose ends and finally the reader realises that not a single fact was written as a gap filler. In the end, everything makes sense. Not so with 1Q84. Useless facts, useless descriptions and useless literary mentions abound.
Problem #3: 1Q84 is said to be “A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s” and that is exactly the problem. This book attempts to squeeze so many genres into one that it rarely succeeds at any of them. Only at the very end of the novel is the romance genre successful. The philosophy is poorly developed, there are more schizoid traits than actual fantasy and the thrill of a mystery is not efficiently conveyed.
Much like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this book also touches on matters of abuse of females and the lack of attention from the powers that be. Again, however, this matter is only really a sub-plot to the non-existent plot of the novel. Which brings me to Problem #4,
Good Ideas Poorly Executed: 1Q84 had so many great themes to develop – fate and destiny, religion and the occult, family and sexuality… but it skims too briefly over them and focuses rather on setting elaborate scenes where nothing really happens.
I must concede that it may well be a translational issue. It is very possible that the translation from Japanese to English did an immense disservice to the novel. I don’t know. Murakami certainly has good ideas and a good handle on descriptive narration.
But at any rate, I found the plot full of holes and too slowly developed, and the characters were not memorable enough. What starts off well is simply not sustained for 1000 pages.