Monday, April 27, 2015

1Q84: A Not-Review

Let me begin by making it clear that Leanne is not a quitter. Ok, well, maybe sometimes I am, but everyone is at some point so shut up. But when I quit I quit with dignity and with good reason. This is not one of those times; I'm not quitting 1Q84, I'm just... taking a very, very long break from it. Again.

Yeah, I know you do...

Honestly, I want to like this book, I really, really do, but it's just so frustrating because I've had this book for months and yet I'm no more than 11% of the way through. It's not terrible, and believe me there are kernels of something great within it, but it's taking me so long to chew my way through it that I wish I'd never bought it. And it's not like I haven't read extremely long novels before, either; it took me maybe a week to read Gone with the Wind and it's probably one of my favorite books, too. So when I saw that this paperback cinder block was over 1000 pages long I wasn't daunted. Factoring in my schoolwork and other responsibilities I thought it might take me two weeks, a month at the very most. But as you can see, that hasn't been the case.

I'm not entirely sure what made me pick up this novel to begin with. That day I was in Barnes and Noble way back in December I happened to pick up this book with an evocative cover, a title reminiscent of 1984, and a back cover blurb that revealed fuck all about the story. I should have taken that as a warning, but somehow it intrigued me instead. I went against my normal instincts and fell for the vague promises of a dystopian mystery/fantasy. To me, 1Q84 could have been anything: the mystique and the word "dystopia"  suggested a challenge, while the word "fantasy" suggested an adventure.

What I got instead was an awkwardly paced, awkwardly worded story that moves at a snail's pace. I'm sure other reviewers have used the term "slowly unfurling" in a positive way to describe this novel, but to me that's a huge strike against it. So maybe you might say that 11% is barely anything, that it's not nearly far enough along for me to judge this book, but try to see it from my perspective; don't you think that after 130 pages I should at least feel like I'm getting somewhere? Like the plot is moving forward? Shouldn't I have some sense of where the plot is going and what's at stake?

Five months ago I had never even heard of Haruki Murakami, but since that time I've seen his name crop up repeatedly on Goodreads and elsewhere, usually with some sort of praise attached. Obviously there are those that swear by his writing and find it to be ingenious, though of course there are those, like me, who fall into the opposite camp. I'm not saying that Murakami is totally undeserving of praise; what little of 1Q84 I have read does have moments of greatness, and indeed they are ironically also partially responsible for why reading it is taking me so long. Every once in a while there is a passage, or even just a paragraph that really stands out, and I find myself rereading at least once before moving on because it's so beautifully described or because it truly resonates with me.

But so much of the rest of it is dull, plodding, and awkward, and I'm not sure if it's the fault of the author, the translator, or both. I can't help but feel that something must've gotten lost in translation, because so many turns of phrase and bits of dialogue sound unnatural or simply unwieldy. I get that a few of the characters I've met so far are strange people whose dialogue is intended to seem awkward, but that same strangeness bleeds into the rest of the narrative and takes me out of the story. Bits that had me scratching my head, like the part where a character tells another person over the phone that he's having a very simple dinner, then goes into a detailed description of the fish, soup, and three different vegetable dishes that he's making.

But what really takes me out of the story is the frequent reminders that this takes place in Japan, as if I'd forgotten already. It just sounds so unnecessary and unrealistic for a Japanese person living in Japan who is currently IN JAPAN to ask someone else "Have you noticed a change in the uniforms of the Japanese police?" It would be like if I'd asked someone of they'd noticed a change in the uniforms of the American police. For that matter (unless I'm stupid and all police in Japan wear the same uniform), but if she's going to be specific, wouldn't it make more sense for her to specify the Tokyo police, since they're in Tokyo? Again, I have to wonder if all these jarring reminders of the setting in both the dialogue and the narrative were inserted by the translator, or if this is just part of Murakami's (who wrote this in Japanese for a Japanese audience, by the way) writing style.

I'm pretty sure that this book did not need to be as long as it is. I know that I've barely just scratched the surface of it, but judging by the sheer amount of filler I've encountered so far I feel like this novel could've been 2/3 as long and be much more palatable. So many words, sentences, and even whole passages just felt so unnecessary and bogged the story down. Maybe a lot of this information will become important later, but even if it does that is no excuse for it being told in an infodump-heavy way. And what makes it even more frustrating is the fact that while some of this information is genuinely interesting, there is still a huge imbalance in the descriptions that we are given, in that we learn a lot about seemingly unimportant things and not enough about others, main character Aomame, for instance. She's one of two protagonists, half the chapters are written from her perspective, and yet her half of the story line unfolds at a maddeningly slow pace and after 130 pages we still know precious little about her.

Will I eventually get back to reading this book? I probably will, but considering my busy end of semester schedule and the fact that my summer is already "booked" (pun intended), it might not be for a while. I am intrigued by the story line and want to see where it goes, but right now I'm just too frustrated with it to continue. Every time I pick it up to continue reading I find myself putting it back down again before long. I've seen Goodreads reviews (after I'd already bought the book, of course) saying that for a Murakami noob this might not be the best of his works to start with, and I can see why; after this poor first attempt on my part I'm hesitant to pick up any of his other books. Maybe sometime later this year I'll give 1Q84 another shot; consider this a placeholder review until then.

1 comment:

  1. I personally wont suffer through a book. Sometimes it is the book itself, and other times it is just bad timing, so I may try again at a later date, but reading is suppose to be a hobby. It is funny how we think that pushing our way through stops us from wasting the time that we have already put into read the book, when it's a massive waste of time to finish a book that we are not enjoying.
    Suzi Q., The Book Dame