1Q84: Haruki Murakami (the first hundred pages)

1Q84 Book 1Haruki Murakami’s new book is actually three books (which anyone waiting for the English translation already knows), for a total of about 1600 pages of dense Japanese. These tomes have been intimidating me from my shelf of unread books since I got the third one a few months ago, until I finally worked up the nerve to crack the first one open last week. I figure that I’ll have forgotten most of my impressions of the beginning by the time I get to the end (I read slower in Japanese than in English, so this could take a while), so I thought I’d break it up into hundred-page chunks. Think of it as the slowest live-blogging event ever.

The first hundred pages cover chapters one through four, which alternate between the characters Aomame and Tengo. I am putting up with the my-turn, your-turn chapter switching for now, in the hopes that Murakami is going somewhere with this, but I’m annoyed. It just seems so tired and unimaginative. I feel like he used to use narrator switching to better effect in his earlier work like Hard-boiled Wonderland. Like it wasn’t so formulaic, but more suited to the needs of the story, with the narration switching whenever the story needed to be told from another angle. Maybe this is all in my head and the switching was just as formulaic, only it was still a fresh storytelling style for me then. Hard to say, since I haven’t read his earlier work in years.
Fortunately, I still love the way the man puts a sentence together. His clean, uncomplicated sentences make me so happy! I heard somewhere that he writes with translation into English in mind, a story which may be apocryphal, but which wouldn’t surprise me at all, given that he also translates English fiction into Japanese and so likely has a good sense of correspondences between the two languages. And he does tend to stay away from the convoluted sentences that can happen in Japanese and give me parsing headaches. But the character Fukaeri in the Tengo section made me wonder about translatability. She speaks in a really distinctive way, written in hiragana or katakana, no kanji, no punctuation, and every time she says anything, I can’t help but wonder how to translate her. I’m looking forward to the English translation by Jay Rubin, so I can see how he handles her.

The other thing I am not so into is the unending mountain of details. Again, I’m holding judgement until I see where this all goes, but so far, it is pretty tedious to read in-depth descriptions of every single thing that happens or exists. Stuff like “Aomame was wearing a beige spring coat over a lightweight, green Junko Shimada wool suit, and carrying a black leather shoulder bag.” A sentence which was preceded by a description of her shoes. Which was preceded by descriptions of vehicles anywhere near her. Preceded by a detailed look at the inside of a taxi. I’m not sure if he’s trying to evoke the eighties for us, maybe make a very complete world to snuggle us into for wherever the story is going, but I find myself rolling my eyes at it all. Like at dinner with Tengo and Fukaeri, we are told in detail what they order when they order and then again when the food arrives two pages later. Right now, I am thinking some editing would not have been inappropriate.

And still I plan to keep reading, despite my grumbling. Because the story is definitely intriguing, in both narrations. I don’t want to get into spoiler town so I’ll refrain from mentioning any specifics, but I will say that I was surprised by the similarities of the Tengo storyline to that in the book 「神村企画」The Making of the Next Kamimura by David Karashima (a book put in my hands by the author himself and one which I might write about one day since I really liked it). Maybe the stories will be less similar as 1Q84 progresses. I’ll report back at two hundred pages!

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