My husband bought me a copy of 1Q84 for Christmas– a book I had been looking forward to for quite a while. Sometime last year, I had read Wind-Up Bird Chronicles and fell immediately under the trance of Murakami’s bizarre characters and enigmatic plot. It was one of those rare books that I actually had trouble putting down. Every time I would place it on the nightstand, I would pick it back up to read just a few more pages. The last time that happened to me was with The Keep by Jennifer Egan. While A Visit from the Good Squad was arguably a more stylistically daring and culturally resonant book, it didn’t captivate me with the same power. When I finished The Keep, I felt the heart-pitch of disappointment that there weren’t more pages.
So it was with a heady anticipation that I began Murakami’s latest. I knew that too much expectation ultimately leads to disappointment– after all, I had had zero anticipation when starting Bird Chronicles– but still, the small cult that has exploded into an international audience seemed equally excited for the book.
And the first 200-300 pages went well. They were engrossing and fairly well-paced (even with the huge blocks of back story). Then, somewhere around page 400 or so, the book began to lag, and it became more difficult to slog through page after page. I started to notice poor stylistic choices: the enormous amount of pace-obliterating back story, the bizarre and convoluted similes and metaphors, the tedious descriptions of every single item a character was wearing or eating. (Yes, that “simple” dinner that Tengo is making sounds delicious, but I don’t need the run-down every time he eats.)
The character of Aomame, likewise, was obviously written by a male writer. She was obsessed with her small, mismatched breasts, she considered physical strength and a lack of emotions the epitome of strength, and every once in a while, she just needed to get laid. Tengo, on the other hand, was allowed a set of more ordinary flaws, like his struggle as a writer and his attempt not to bang a seventeen-year-old girl.
But all of this was secondary to the main problem: the story staggered and fell stagnant halfway through the book. Except for a thrilling resurrection during the storm scene, getting through the final half of the book was difficult. The most disappointing part was seeing, in rare glimpses of brilliance, how amazing the book could have been. There are the little people who travel out of a dead goat’s mouth. There is the creepy cat town. And towards the end of the book, several different plot points begin to converge in an interesting way. Instead of resolving any of those plot points or character arcs, however, Murakami rushes the two protagonists to an unsatisfying climax and denouement, leaving several loose threads. I never imagined feeling rushed at the ending to a 900-page opus, but there you are.
I’d still like to read Kafka on the Shore or After Dark, but I think I might read some reviews first. And I certainly hope Murakami hasn’t become such an icon that he ignores his editors, because ultimately, what that book needed what a serious editorial make-over before any volume was actually published.