Writing a good novel is not easy, nor is it without obstacles or pitfalls. Writing a good novel that’s over a thousand pages and maintaining its goodness (its artistry, its cohesion, etc.) must be an indescribable challenge: obstacles and pitfalls surely increase exponentially with each chapter.
I say that to soften the blow I must deal to Haruki Murakami by saying that I was incredibly disappointed with 1Q84 overall. While I was on pace to finish the novel in 3 weeks (a week per book), I got so bored and (frankly) fed up with Book 3 that I ended up dragging the reading out to twice that length. Obviously Philip Gabriel’s translation of Book 3 (contrary to the hope of my previous post) did nothing to improve the issues I had with Books 1 and 2, which is to say that it was neither he nor Jay Rubin that disappointed me, but Murakami himself — which I am indeed grieved to admit.
Notwithstanding the possibility that my opinion of the novel would be different if I was Japanese (which I am not), I have very little positive to say about 1Q84, aside from the fact that it had the potential to have an immense amount of intrigue and gravity (in the Newtonian sense, metaphorically), but was executed poorly. Surprisingly poorly (if my standards are to be the standard by which art is judged, which I will not assert).
As I wrote in my last post, 75% of the dialogue (or higher) felt unnatural, forced, bizarre (not in a good way), and often irrelevant. The inner thoughts and reflections of the characters were even worse — atrocious, really. It felt as if an editor had read the novel and said, “There’s too much expositional prose. Just change half of those paragraphs into internal monologue.” So, rather than artfully revising the content, all the pronouns were changed and the sentences italicized. I understand that lots of exposition can be boring, and that readers want to get inside the heads of the characters, but the types of the things that the characters were asking themselves about their circumstances were not things that people actually ask themselves in their own heads.
Plus, it didn’t allow me as a reader to ask those questions on my own. Frankly, I felt like I was presumed to be an idiot, or a child being led by the hand. Like Murakami (or his editor) didn’t trust his readership to be intelligent enough to ask the right questions, so he just asked for them. In that same vein, the novel was ridiculously redundant — like, irritatingly so. The narrative, which primarily followed two characters, would unveil a key plot point or character development through Tengo Kawana (the ghostwriter/math teacher), and then re-unveil it through Aomame (the feministic vigilante-assassin) in the very next chapter. And again. And again. Then, when Uchikawa (a private investigator hired to track down Tengo and Aomame) comes on the scene in Book 3, he has to discover everything for the first time that the readers already know and have known since Book 1.
The novel should have been called “IQ: 84,” because that’s the level of intelligence that the reader is presumed to have. Murakami chose to overdevelop (and re-overdevelop) the aspects which were crystal clear, and he refused to develop the parts of the novel that were actually intriguing. It’s as if he was trying too hard with the novel, and was therefore too concerned about whether or not his readers would understand what was going on — which, as I’ve mentioned, was incredibly disappointing. The novel could have been almost half as long if he hadn’t repeated himself so damn much.
Despite all that, my love for Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore persuades me to give him another chance and the benefit of the doubt that the task of writing such an ambitiously long novel contains a treacherous host of obstacles and pitfalls. I own and will someday read his novel, The Windup Bird Chronicle, after my year of big books has concluded.
Up next: Ayn Rand.