Friday, January 27, 2012

Reading Rainbow: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

So that happened.

Having devoured every Haruki Murakami novel that has been officially translated into English with the exception of After Dark and Kafka on the Shore*, there was no reason to be leery of his three-book magnum opus 1Q84.

*I simply haven't gotten around to those two.

I was wrong.

For the first time while reading Murakami, my interest waned. With none of his novels having taken more than 10 days to read previously, I half-heartedly labored through the first 770 pages or so over the course of the past four months. Once Tengo's editor Komatsu came back into the picture, the narrative began to hurtle towards its end, eliciting a long-awaited sense of relief. The pace picked up. The pages began to almost turn themselves. Chapters ended and a desire to actually continue reading took hold. The last 150 pages were genuinely enthralling.

Unfortunately so much of the book consists of its two protagonists (who are featured in alternating chapters) doing the literary equivalent of running out the clock with little in the way of actual plot development. By the time to two star-crossed would-be lovers finally re-connect after about 20 years of being separated, somewhere in the neighborhood of 880 fucking pages have passed. While Tengo Kawana and Masami Aomame unknowingly long for one another, they meander through a surrealistic alternate 1984. It is just that this other 1984 is only slightly surreal. There are Little People, Air Chrysalises, and two moons; but given 900+ pages, the vision of this world might just be too pared down.

And then there's the issue of Aomame. She is a contract killer who eliminates abusive men, a feminist killer if you will, but she is emotionally fragile and withdrawn. Approximately 40% of the book is told from her perspective, but it never feels like Murakami feels at home telling her story. She never feels quite right.

When so much of the novel relies on a character that isn't well-executed, that's kind of a deal-breaker. There is simply too much time misspent in the first 5/6 of the book to have its conclusion (and an anti-climactic one at that) right the ship.

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