1Q84 Volumes 1 and 2 – Haruki Murakami

My posts are now slightly out of order compared to the reading dates, as I found Ancillary Sword much easier to write about than 1Q84 (and I finished 1Q84 just before I went away for the weekend so didn’t have much of a chance to get my thoughts together… and I wasn’t going to try writing it while I was away dancing, because some things are just more important). I was also struggling a little with what to write. I’m not sure I have much to say about 1Q84 that I haven’t already said in my other two Murakami posts.

This isn’t to say that 1Q84 isn’t good, or enjoyable, or original… just that it’s very firmly in the same category as Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and After Dark. As I said when I finished HBWatEotW, “weird but good”. I have all the same compliments to pay to 1Q84, the same pleasure at the pacing, and the efficiency of detail in his descriptions, about the weirdness made real and the strange calm of his prose. It’s all still there. The only major difference between 1Q84 and the others is length – it’s a three part book (my copy was the first two volumes in one edition), and each part alone is a good sized volume, which gives Murakami space to really go to town on descriptions and those little moments of observation he does so well. There are a lot of genuinely beautiful descriptive passages, both of physical scenes and of characters’ introspective moments.

That being said, I think the length is actually a detriment. The gentle pacing that works in a slimmer novel turns into a bit of a drag when so far spread out. It’s not that nothing happens – there is definitely action and occurrence – but just that the unchanging tone gets a little wearing when it remains unchanging for 800 pages. It stops being gentle and thoughtful and starts becoming ever so slightly dull.

There’s another part of 1Q84 I’m not all that fond of, and that’s the pre-occupation with sex and nudity. Some of it is totally plot relevant and I don’t begrudge it in the slightest. But some of it really, really isn’t. The female lead, Aomame, seems to have a obsession with staring at her own crotch in the mirror. The male lead thinks about the 17-year-old’s breasts far more than the narrative really needs. Each little bit is a minor irritation on its own, but there are quite a lot of them and they just feel… unnecessary. They don’t add anything to the characters, the plot or the tone. They don’t seem to do anything, or be there for any reason other than titillation. And that annoys me.

But, and it’s an important but, it’s not bad enough to detract. I still enjoyed the book, and I still enjoyed the length, to some extent. It’s just that it seems to be the price you pay for more lovely descriptive passages is a bit of boredom with the pacing and some irrelevant sexual obsession. But it’s a price I’m ok with paying.

I think you get more of an insight into the viewpoint characters in 1Q84 than in the other Murakami I’ve read so far – possibly another increased length bonus. They are far more introspective than those in HBWatEotW and After Dark, and as such you end up feeling closer to them. They’re also a nicely different and balanced pair, with different attitudes and wants, so it’s easy to have a favourite. For me, Tengo, the maths genius author, is much closer to my heart. He’s pleasantly laid back, but with a layer of worry and self-doubt that makes him quite charming, as well as the complexity of his feelings toward his father. Aomame is more independent, more confident and more emphatic in everything she does. She has a sort of quiet fire that pushes her through, and while that is compelling, I find her less sympathetic than Tengo. Between them, though, they form a lovely contrast and I never found myself going “uuggggh can we get back to Tengo now please” like I sometimes do with multiple viewpoint books.

Particularly like HBWatEotW, the plot is just… peculiar. It’s definitely fantasy-ish, but it doesn’t feel like fantasy. It also does take quite a while to get going in that regard, so you get sort of used to the real-world style of it before being gently prodded towards things being not quite as they seem. I am still very much a fan of the fantasy-not-written-like-fantasy thing, and 1Q84 pushes quite far into the weird-thing-happening, which makes it all the better. Sometimes I felt myself wanting more exposition, but that very much is not what Murakami seems to do, so I’m not going to complain at the absence. The whole point is the steady, slow reveal, and it is completely on me that I can’t be a little bit patient to find out what’s going on.

I won’t say it’s one of my favourite books ever, nor is it even the best Murakami I’ve read, but it’s still very, very good, and I will aim to get to the third part as soon as I can.

Next time, I start on my current plan (along with a friend) to read what we suspect are going to be this year’s Hugo nominations (based on Chaos Horizon’s predictions). I intend to read all of them, while he may be skipping some due to excessive length. First up is The Water Knife, which I’ve already finished and which was pretty cool.

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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