Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review: IQ84 by Haruki Murakami

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is an asymmetrical, deeply intriguing fairytale. Told from radically different perspectives, Murakami weaves together a picture of the past, present, and possible futures. He places the story in the past (1984) while simultaneously creating futuristic events and an alternate timeline, namely the world of 1Q84. This juxtaposition of a pre-mobile phone world and post-modern philosophy creates a captivating and poetic style.

While at points the plot can drag – and I’m still not certain why American publishers decided to print three books as one gigantic volume – the premise proved interesting enough to keep me going.

The main characters, like the world itself, can at times be both relatable and frustrating. Tengo, an oblivious aspiring-author, seems to wander through his world unable to grasp the indefinable strangeness around him until he meets Fuka-eri. A high-schooler with an improbably good story to tell, the eccentric Fuka-eri breaks into Tengo’s dull life like a wave crashing into a sandcastle. He is transfixed by this unusual girl and falls in love with her story more than with her. He becomes her ghost-writer, an act which wrenches him out of his casual, uninteresting life and lands him squarely in a world that is quite literally stranger than fiction.

Meanwhile, Aomame, a fierce yet flawed character who at first appears utterly detached from the main story descends into the world 1Q84 in an abrupt and observable fashion. Reflecting the two worlds she inhabits, she leads a dual life of energetic fitness trainer-cum-righteous assassin. Slowly, her own life becomes more and more entangled with the parallel stories of Tengo and Fuka-eri.

Aside from a single shared moment in their childhood, Tengo and Aomame have in common a deep and unsettling emptiness. Both have tried to fill it in their own ways, Tengo with words and Aomame with deeds, but both remain unsatisfied. As they attempt to navigate the world of 1Q84, they come closer and closer to each other and fulfillment.

Fuka-eri herself is actually not so much a character as a convenient plot-device. Her behavior is strange and her responses unpredictable and emotionless. Rather than being portrayed as the abused child that she is, she’s set up as some sort of spiritual receptacle. Here Murakami dives into a deeply disturbing plot twist that forces the reader to reconsider their basic moral ideas.

As a reader, I was both profoundly revolted and unrelentingly curious. Did I actually fully grasp the concepts presented to me? Was I capable of forming moral judgments on something so entirely foreign? I’m still not comfortable with the aspects of sexual exploitation and abuse that are addressed by this book, but perhaps that was the writer’s goal. Murakami’s magnum opus constantly circles in on itself taking the reader to deeper and deeper levels of plot and morality. The cyclical nature of change and duality, of both the world and the characters, is captured in a single well-illustrated metaphor: the double moon in the sky of 1Q84.

Although there are times when it feels as if the writer wanders through his world as unwittingly as his character Tengo and many instances where Murakami failed to “kill his darlings,” the prose is ultimately successful.  The writing, as strange as the story itself, is perhaps a result of translation from the original Japanese, but with his startling and unusual style of prose, Murakami surpasses any language barriers. The writing became itself a character in this intricately crafted story. Murakami’s world and lyrical use of language mesh inextricably.

For those of you willing to devote a significant amount of time and brainpower to this book, you will be rewarded with a world of unflinching strangeness and beauty that forces you to question your own concepts of religion, love, and even reality. What would happen if one day you descended into a world that, while similar to you own, was ever so slightly different? What would you do if you looked up to find two moons in your once familiar sky?

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