Monday, 3 September 2012

1Q84 - Book I

Even though I read mostly European literature, I am always on the lookout for works by authors outside it.  So when I saw that Dolce Belezza was organising the Japanese Literature challenge 6, I immediately registered and was excited about the works of literature I was to read:  I was really looking forward to uncovering new and old talents of that culture.

My choices for this challenge were primarily books recommended by friends and family, who knew my likes and dislikes.  Except for one:    Murakami's 1Q84, a trilogy that serves as an ode to Orwell's 1984.  I have to admit I had not heard of Murakami, but given the wide acceptance this book received, I was willing to try.  I bought the enormous tome of the first two books and started to read...

To say I was immersed in unknown territory would not capture the extent of my surprise.  The reviews I had consulted had presented this as a masterpiece (note to self:  beware of masterpieces...), an ingenious  story of parallel realities and two people whose lives are separate and together at the same time.
The year is 1984 in Tokyo and we follow the lives of Aomame, a professional hitperson and Tengo, a basically ghost writer.

I was quickly disillusioned.  The only reference to Orwell's story was Aomame's remark that as she cannot remember police uniforms to have changed, this means there is a parallel universe, which she would have to distinguish.  Really, that's it? I'm sorry, such a discovery merits a lot more thought, a lot more surprise, a lot more consideration as to the consequences!  It is not to be taken lightly, however blasée the society depicted is. This was the first point that rather left a

The chapters alternate between the two main characters, providing a glimpse into each of their stories.  The second thing that bothered me was the absolute lack of empathy, of passion - but here I have to admit it may be the loss in translation.  I cannot imagine what the original text would describe or how it would be received by readers aware of the Japanese culture.  However, I am not immersed in Victorian French culture either, but I can make respective provisions when I read the relevant texts.  Having said that, I can now describe how I felt reading this translated text:  I had the impression I was reading a literary attempt by an sex-crazed teenage boy - extremely detailed description of every little (pointless) detail that resulted in a tome, and which could be condensed to a lot less.  I apologise to Murakami''s audience, who may have been able to discover something I am not in a position to do, but I seriously could not find anything that I would describe as "serious writing".  And I'm using this term, because this is how it was described in the reviews I read.  I was expecting a solemn, perhaps slightly dry writing, that would parallel Orwell's 1984 (here already I accept this was never the case).

Instead, I found myself with two main characters who are completely devoid of any human trait:  their lives are perfectly regulated, and there seem to be no highlights to mark any important event, time, space - everything is described in total apathy, without any feelilng towards anything... Third and perhaps major point that bothered in this book was the sex.  I would not characterise myself as prude, but even I could not handle every other page describing Aomame's obsession with her own body and her fantasies with other women, or Tengo's fantasy with his mother.  I can accept this being a background, an element towards a story, but I did not expect it to be THE story.  Because reaching the middle of Book I, when I was ready to give it up - it was clear I did not like it - I actually persevered and finished it, just to make sure that there was not any twist in the story and I would miss it.  No, there was no such twist.  I finished Book I and the only two things I knew about these two characters were their fantasies.  Nothing wrong in that, but not what I was expecting.

I did not continue into Book II, because, frankly, by the end of Book I I had lost interest in Murakami.  I have since talked to people who have read his books, and some have confirmed that this seems to be his style - totally acceptable, but it's not for me.  I want to read books that will intrigue me, that will take me out of my comfort zone (which this book did, but it put me in a very uncomfortable one), that will make excellent use of the written word (again, translation does not help in such cases), that will take me places, in the end that will have me think about the impact on my life.  As such, 1Q84 did not have any long-term impact.  Which was a lesson for me:  I gave 1Q84 a whole-hearted try, I could not get into the characters' skin, I now know that this type of writing does not appeal to me.  Again, nothing wrong in that...


  1. I'm sorry you and Murakami didn't get along! I really like him, although I haven't read this particular book yet, so can't comment. You old try Norwegian Wood, it's a great book and has a different style to his other stuff, not as weird.

    1. I will definitely try at least one other of his books (thanks for the tip btw)

  2. I'm a big fan of Murakami's work, but I detested (or should I say, am detesting - since I'm still only halfway) 1Q84! It's true that, to an extent, his style remains unchanged, but his other books have far less back story, and far more likeable characters.

    I also recommend Norwegian Wood (it's the most 'normal' of his books, as Joanna says) and Kafka on the Shore, which is my personal favourite! The key to enjoying Murakami, I think, is to not try and find a deeper meaning in it, but just enjoy the crazy ride!

    1. it's a relief that I'm not on my own! thanks for the tips, I will have a look!

  3. Hi there, the October edition of Books You Loved is live. Here is the link Books You Loved October Edition Please do pop by and link in a post about a book you loved. Maybe this one? Cheers

    PS I am a follower of your blog. I know you have linked in before, too – which is great. Would you consider following Carole's Chatter back – or are you already?

    1. Hi Carole, indeed I'm following your blog. As to the link you're proposing, as you can read from my review, I did not enjoy this book...




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