Haruki Murakami

Book cover

As a huge fan of Murakami, it feels difficult for me to judge a book of his, because my frame of reference is “other Murakami novels” rather than “other novels.” While I definitely enjoyed reading “1Q84”, it was not one of my favorite of Murakami’s novels. Because of its great length (pushing 1000 pages), I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone who is not a dyed-in-the-wool Murakami fan.

The writing is as good as Murakami’s always is, and it’s pretty much a page turner (which is crucial for such a long book). But I think there are two things that bothered me about it. First, I felt like the Murakami-trademark “mystical occurrences” in the story were too clearly explained. I don’t think it’s giving too much away for me to say that the plot largely revolves around the existence of a parallel world that people move into and out of. To me, the novel gives away too much of the nature of this world, which pushes it toward the realm of science fiction and away from the realm of magical realism. Although the physical mechanisms controlling mysterious things are not generally described, their causal relationships to one another are basically tied up quite neatly. The effect of this, for me, was to discourage deep thinking about elements of the story and to encourage me to accept them on a superficial level.

The second thing that bothered me is a bit more difficult to describe without giving away the ending, but I think it suffices to say that the resolution of the book’s conflicts also felt too neat. There is little of the compelling uncertainty that characterizes, as a few examples of similar stories, the endings of “The Graduate,” “The Amber Spyglass,” or even Murakami’s short story “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning,” on which the novel is ostensibly partly based.

I would like to highlight one part of “1Q84” that I especially enjoyed, which is the character of Ushikawa. Although I think Murakami has written a lot of interesting characters, he has not written a lot of likable characters (I think). In basically all objective ways, Ushikawa is a thoroughly unlikable individual, yet somehow, the way Murakami wrote it, I ended up really liking the guy in an odd way. (Curious if others had this feeling.) The closest comparison I can think of is Hoshino from “Kafka on the Shore.”

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars