1Q84: Haruki Murakami (Book Two)

Finish line in sight! Or at least, the end of the book I am currently reading (Book Three) will actually be the end of the book. What a delight. Having recently finished Book Two of this entirely too long novel, I have some thoughts. Perhaps you will enjoy reading them. Perhaps not. Either way, spoilers ahoy!

The thing I realized/decided approaching the end of Book Two was no matter how this monstrosity ends, I will not be reading another Murakami book. I was entirely disappointed with his previous offering After Dark, but I have loved too much of his work for too long to just abandon him on the basis of one book. “It’s just a blip,” I thought. “His next work will be better,” I thought. But the fact is this book is not better. Or rather, it is better (I really didn’t like After Dark), but it is not better enough. There are just so many things about 1Q84 that I really dislike, that really bother me, and the book is not enough to bring me back into the fold.

I have no doubt that you are entirely sick of hearing me say this, and yet it bears repeating: This book needs editing. The endless repetition, the dull sequences of people getting food from the fridge, the rehashing of thoughts that have already been hashed into oblivion, these things all take away from the pleasure of the narrative and just what it is that Murakami is trying to communicate. He introduces information that is new to the character at hand as if it’s new to the reader, even though the reader is only too well acquainted with the news.

Like the double moons that Aomame introduced us to way back in Book One. She described them to us in great detail, painting them vividly in the night sky for those of us who have never seen two moons in the sky. And this was exactly as it should be. As Murakami himself notes through Uematsu (Tengo’s editor), when you introduce something the reader can’t possibly have experienced, give details, make it real. But then Aomame reads the novel that Tengo and Fukaeri collaborated on (yes, a character in a novel reading a novel that the novel is about), the two moons show up and get a loving painting in words. Adding no new details, I might add. And given that this book has been about Murakami really not expecting his readers to hold even five seconds of information in their heads, I should not have been surprised/aggravated at the lengthy and nearly identical description of the two moons when Tengo discovers them in his storyline in the next chapter.

Another aggravating bit is what I like to call the “Tengo is a brilliant writer” thread. Just in case the reader didn’t get it the first five times, Murakami never fails to seize an opportunity to remind us of just how solid and balanced the brilliant sentences that Tengo writes are. (My reading notes have, “I get it already!! Tengo is a brilliant writer!” more than once.) And for additional Mary Sue value, we are also repeatedly informed that Tengo excels at nearly everything. Or at least he’s never found anything he’s bad at. Brilliant judo master? Check! Math prodigy? Check! Inspiring teacher? Check! The only thing Tengo apparently can’t do is develop a real connection with another human being. Which was no biggie since he was completely satisfied with the affair he was having with his married older girlfriend. But then Older Girlfriend disappeared! And hey, he just remembered about this Aomame chick! So he’s just going to obsess on her now!

But I think my breaking point, what made me finally throw my hands up in the air, is the creepy old man vibe that has been creeping into Murakami’s writing on anything sexy for the last while. I won’t even talk about his apparent ear fetish, which has been obvious from way back when. And was even slightly charming when it made its first appearance. But the focus on Fukaeri’s breasts is not something I can let slide. Nearly every interaction Tengo has with Fukaeri results in a comment on how perfect/pert/rounded her breasts are. Or how good they look in that sweater. You can practically feel the leer creeping up off the page. I get that Fukaeri is supposed to be a preternaturally beautiful young woman, and that this fact needs to be emphasized and driven home. But all the talk of her breasts and her perfect seashell of an ear just makes me feel like someone somewhere is masturbating. It’s not relevant and it’s deeply distracting. Fingers crossed that boob references decrease significantly in the hopefully edited English version.

Not to mention the creepy and seemingly unwarranted sex with ten-year-olds. And the sex that seventeen-year-old Fukaeri forces upon thirty-year-old Tengo to carry out some cleansing ritual, after many chapters of Tengo noting how hot she is and how hot her breasts are. And how her delicate seashell of an ear looks like a recently formed sex organ. But he is not into her, and is so distressed to discover his paralysis when she sexes him up. Because he would totally push her away if he wasn’t paralyzed.

All of this is so deeply disappointing because of the simple fact that Murakami has stories to tell. Amazing, interesting, thoughtful stories. Stories I want to read. Amply proven by the fact that even given all my complaints and annoyances with this book, I have no thought of throwing in the towel. Book Two ends with Aomame with a gun in her mouth, ready to pull the trigger, and Tengo cracking open a cocoon of sorts to find a ten-year-old Aomame inside. There is no way I could stop reading there. The story in this book, if you dig down and ignore the creepy factor, is so incredibly compelling. Murakami still has so much to say, he just seems to have lost the gift of saying it.


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