Stimulus: Haruki Murakami ‒ 1Q84
It’s possible that I’ve never been as frustrated with a book as I was with 1Q84. Maybe if the book wasn’t so massive, I’d at least be less irritated about the trip through these dense woods. Unfortunately, this would-be epic fairy tale’s length draws out the story’s primary and lesser flaws so far that they become almost intolerable.
Ultimately, the worst thing about 1Q84 is that it should be amazing. This story of a parallel world has so much going on within it that, had Murakami focused more on its fantastic elements instead of jettisoning all of that colorful landscape in favor of making the book little more than an elaborate goddamn teenage romance, I’d have stood up on my textual soapbox and praised this book as a work of genius. Instead ‒ and I don’t give a shit about spoiling this ending, because fuck this book’s ending ‒ the world is literally cast aside and thrown out the second the two main characters find each other. All the big metaphysical questions are suddenly given the finger and ignored; it felt a lot like watching someone get born again and then deny that their life to that point ever happened. I got the explicit message that the parallel 1984 world meant nothing to Murakami, that it served merely as a shiny backdrop for his mooning young lovers to have some bullshit Disney happily ever after moment. After almost a thousand pages of investment, this sort of ending is a ridiculous letdown.
I’ll refer to the two main characters as Boy and Girl, since Murakami seems downright miserly in giving out even the most trivial details such as people’s names. They begin as moderately interesting characters. Girl is an assassin of wife-beaters as well as a weekend warrior swinger. Her wingwoman in the latter is a really insipid character, but Girl’s spectrum of murder and sex creates some interesting contradictions. Boy is a part-time math teacher, “older girlfriend” banger, and aspiring novelist who rewrites a mysterious girl’s novella into a bestseller. This book, which initially only runs the risk of being exposed as a semi-fraud, soon creates metaphysical consequences which lead a cult to hunt down the authors. Meanwhile, Girl is hunting down the cult leader, and soon Boy and Girl’s interests cross.
What makes these two characters implode is the revelation that Boy and Girl were classmates when they were ten, and one time they held hands, and ever since nothing else in either goddamn world they inhabit has mattered. They’re thirty. Despite their interesting and sordid lives, their entire reasons for living are soon exposed as finding each other despite not having seen each other for twenty years. This quickly becomes as one-track and grating as watching a child throw itself on the ground in a toy store and hold its breath until it gets the toy it wants.
Interestingly enough, the third part of the story introduces another point of view, the welcome perspective of an insectlike private detective hired by the cult to track first Boy and then Girl. He’s a great, pathetic character whom nobody likes, which combined with his extensive knowledge makes him the story’s most compelling voice. Problem is, it just seems like he’s there for Murakami to grudgingly give up some more plot details, after which he’s tossed into the trash. In a story filled with underutilized side characters, he’s the prime victim.
I really wanted to like this book, but no, I don’t. The neat, supernatural elements are delightful but ultimately treated as unimportant. The sordid sexy bits, perhaps owing to translation issues, are badly written with a very odd sort of technical euphemism. And the main characters ‒ besides that sad, scuttling detective ‒ lose all their allure as they become all fucking doe-eyed. I can’t say that 1Q84 was a total loss, but there’s no way I’d recommend this long, pointless journey to anyone else.
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