1Q84: Haruki Murakami (Part 3)

Let me distract you from the terrible news that just keeps coming out of Japan with the Murakami death slog! Three hundred pages! Well, it’s actually three hundred and twenty-one. I haven’t had time to write since I reached three hundred, but I’ve kept reading, so here we are.

And what are my impressions at this critical milestone? Did you guess “needs editing”? Because really, there is nothing else to guess. Yes, again, I found myself frustrated with the unending wordiness of the whole adventure. I am so tired of descriptions of people’s clothing in such minute detail. And I found myself getting angry at some points. It’s starting to feel like Murakami doesn’t trust his readers. Like he doesn’t believe we are intelligent or capable enough to fill in the blanks and create the fictive world he wants us to. He is constantly reminding the reader of things.

And not just some odd detail about a character that you encountered ten chapters ago which is about to become very relevant. That is the good kind of reminding and I appreciate it when authors do that since I am a bit forgetful, and thus, might miss some of the significance of the event because I did not remember that odd detail. The bad kind of reminding is when you take every opportunity, and even create some that aren’t there, to tell us about the <spoiler> tiny hand-made ice pick that Aomame has. That she uses to kill people. </spoiler> Because I would forget something like that if you didn’t tell me every single time you describe at length the bag Aomame is carrying. This kind of reminding signals to me a serious lack of faith in my ability as a reader on the part of the author.

So you can imagine how vindicated I felt reading reports that the English version of the book will be one volume! And apparently it will clock in at around a thousand pages. Given that the three volumes of 1Q84 total around 1600 pages in Japanese, and that the number of characters usually doubles-ish for translations of Japanese text into English, this book should end up being around 3000 pages in English. Even with a larger page (and the page in the English hardback would be larger), you’re still looking at around 2000 or 2500 pages. So the publisher saying a thousand pages? That can only mean one thing: much-needed editing!

So you know I’ll be reading the English version, not only to compare the translation with the original (a translation nerd pleasure), but also to see what they cut and how they dealt with slimming this monster down. Because my initial impressions are basically unchanged: The stories are good, Murakami can craft a lovely sentence, he needs an editor.

I’m even getting into the Tengo storyline now, which wasn’t really grabbing me so much before. But the introduction of a suicide cult and some Fukaeri backstory has drawn me in. Even here, though, Murakami and his over-explanatory tendencies water down my pleasure. The backstory comes from a long, long, long conversation between Tengo and Fukaeri’s guardian, Ebisuno. A long conversation. Which is mostly just Ebisuno talking. And in the Aomame storyline, which I still prefer, I was treated to a lengthy description of Aomame’s relationship with her closest friend, Tamaki. And yes, both things are relevant to the story, but I keep thinking about the storywriting adage “Show, don’t tell.” Murakami is doing a whole lot of telling, and I half feel like I am reading a history book rather than a novel at times. A fictional history, but still. Learning about Tamaki and Aomame, I had the feeling that that if he wanted to write a novel about the two of them, he should have.

And that, I think, is where the real problem lies. This book feels like he wanted to write six books and decided to put them all together. There are complicated and detailed backstories all over the place, each of them worthy of a novel in and of themselves, and Murakami has sort of forced them to all be in the same novel. Maybe he wanted me to know the characters better, and to a certain extent, the details help. But too many details make me feel like there is no room for me, like I am just studying facts for a test. I don’t think this will stop being an issue for me, so I’m going to shut up about it now and focus on the parts of the book that I do enjoy. After all, with another 1300 or so pages to go, we’ve got about thirteen more of these updates to plow through.

But probably not that many. I’m not going to write about this again until I get to the end of Book One at least. I have a feeling that I’m just going to get all grumpy old lady if I keep up the 100-page update schedule. All shaking my fist and shouting, “Get an editor!”

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