Writing about Reading: 1Q84
June 7, 2012 § 5 Comments
Having been a fan of Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I was looking forward to reading 1Q84, especially since one review I read said it was Murakami’s take on Orwell’s 1984. But either that reviewer hadn’t read 1Q84, or he hadn’t read 1984, or both.
Rather than having anything to do with Orwell, 1Q84 is a very odd, often plodding Japanese urban fantasy. It involves Aomame, a fitness trainer who sidelines as an assassin, and Tengo, a math teacher and aspiring novelist. So far, it sounds like a book I would love, right? And assassin and a novelist?
Unfortunately, Murakami’s glacial pace seriously detracts from what could have been an interesting, engaging story. Clearly, Murakami wrote this for a literary audience, and I’m sure college English majors will be studying this book soon (if they’re not already). On the plus side, they’ll have a lot to dissect and interpret and write essays about. On the minus side, it doesn’t make for a very satisfying read.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I have a BA in English Literature and have written my share of essays on long, plodding literary novels. I’ve even enjoyed several of them. Gravity’s Rainbow, for example, is one of my favorite novels, and it definitely has the same kind of head-scratching moments as 1Q84. But whereas Pynchon has fun with it, Murakami’s novel is almost a thousand pages of slow, dull, repetitive moments. Aomame exercises endlessly. For about the last half of the book, she spends her time confined in a small apartment, doing the same things over and over and over. Likewise, Tengo makes himself small meals in almost every scene in his apartment, it seems.
And then there’s the gun. At one point, one character gives another character a gun, and there is a discussion of Chekhov’s rule—if you show a gun in the first act, it has to be fired by the last act. Now, clearly, 1Q84 is a meta-novel. Tengo and Aomame get pulled into the world of a novel Tengo has helped rewrite—a world much like the real world, only with two moons and some other, smaller differences. But the discussion of Chekov’s rule is a bit too on the nose for my liking. It comes up at least three times, and each time it jarred me right out of the narrative. If the best writing is seamless, the Chekhov discussion was a jagged, Frankenstein stitch. It pulled me out of the story and made me roll my eyes—which, I’m fairly sure, is not the effect Murakami was going for. (On top of that, Aomame spends endless amounts of time practicing with the gun, cleaning the gun, holding the gun, putting the gun in her waistband, et cetera ad nauseum.)
This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the book at times; I wouldn’t have suffered through a thousand pages were that the case. However, my enjoyment began to wane around the middle of the book, and I was too invested at that point to give up. Plus, I kept expecting twists and turns in the story, and there just aren’t many. In fact, you can predict the end of the book at the beginning.
If you’re looking for a quiet story to lull you to sleep at night, 1Q84 is the book for you. There are no shocking twists that will make you sit up in bed, mainly because every twist and turn is telegraphed well in advance. The prose slogs along in a way that will quickly make your eyelids droop. It’s Nyquil without the morning hangover.