At the great risk of sounding insufferably pretentious, I am a fan of Haruki Murakami. I first received Kafka on the Shore for Christmas in 2005, when I had just recently returned from my first trip to Japan as part of a high school study tour. My mind thoroughly blown, I searched for other Murakami books and have enjoyed most of them. It must be confessed, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle sits half finished on my shelf. But I loved A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance and Sputnik Sweetheart. And I read Norwegian Wood at precisely the right time of my life, in my early 20s and on holiday. Though it remains one of my favourite books, I’m afraid to reread it and lose the magic of that first emotional sweep. So with all that said, of course I wanted to melt similarly into 1Q84 in all its expected weirdness, letting the musical references sail over my head like I usually do.
It took me years, but I finally finished it last week. It seems like I’m not alone in this experience. Others I have spoken to have said they too struggled to complete the large novel, divided into three volumes and totalling in the area of 932 pages. A brief internet search suggests that many were disappointed, after the large amount of anticipation leading up to its release. A flop, a failure, the letdown of the year. Having now finished it, I can hardly argue it is one of his better works either.
I do suspect he knew that all along. Late in the third book, there is some significant reference to Proust’s seven volume In Search of Lost Time and how difficult, how obtuse it can be. Since Murakami was never one for the spotlight, I even wonder if he might have done it on purpose. Or perhaps I am misidentifying as trollish genius an overlong and slow moving novel that frustrates more than touches.
Many of Murakami’s standard elements are present in 1Q84; the aforementioned music references; the solitary individuals with simple, solitary lives; the precise descriptions of simply prepared food. Some familiar themes of love, loneliness and lost connections; of searching for meaning and reason in our lives. The story is told with Murakami’s typical unembellished prose and the story certainly could have been interesting. It focuses on a sinister cult and on mysterious ‘little people’ in a parallel world the characters find themselves.
Nonetheless, yes, it really is all too long and slow moving in places, especially towards the end as several of the characters seem to become trapped in a lull, waiting for fate to take its course. Much of the supporting cast just wafts away by various means. Yes, this novel is for the truest and most forgiving of Murakami fans. Do not attempt this as your first foray into his fascinating, idiosyncratic world.