12:16:11 1Q84, a book review

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, a 944-page print edition hyped as his magnum opus, strikes me more as simply super-sized, if vintage Murakami--with reservations--and still addictively readable as the master storyteller serves up his signature narrative lines with its swing of wry amusement. The pages turn effortlessly for an easy week's read.

1Q84 probably shows Murakami's most seamless integration to date of his two characteristic fiction forms: the conventional romance narrative a la Norwegian Wood and the surreal adventure of The Windup Bird Chronicle in its wilder passages. When the heroine Aomame climbs down from the elevated freeway, abandoning her taxi in a traffic jam, she enters a parallel world: She goes down the rabbit hole.

Aomame enters a world with, yes, two moons, and where she will find a profound clash of epic Manichaean consequence taking place. But first she has an assassination scheduled. She is a female avenger for hire, along the lines of Steig Larsson's Lisbeth Salander. Wife beaters and worse beware!

The other half of the duo that makes for romance in 1Q84 is young aspiring novelist Tengo--a Murakami stand-in we've seen before. The soulmate he yearns for--Aomame--he first saw and once held her hand in grammar school, then fate took her away ... The romance setup mimics the earlier South of the Border, East of the Sun.

[book cover]Doubtless, 1Q84 pays homage to hardboiled American mystery writers of the 1940s who've influenced Murakami. Aomame meets the employing dowager in a greenhouse that recalls Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. Tengo's dad, whose job is collecting State TV subscription fees door-to-door, recalls the unceasing industry of James M. Cain's Mildred Pierce. In 1Q84, his subscription collection continues even when the dad lapses into a coma!

Still, my chief reservation would be Murakami's willingness to bridge such a long narrative by pushing literary fiction closer to genre thriller, trading nuance for jolts. That Aomame and Tengo eventually find each other seems a pachinko machine-like resolution.

Having said that, 1Q84 lacks not for narrative punch and pace. 

When Aomame, alone, meets face-to-face with the head of the novel's McGuffin-ish religious cult and the Leader confesses his existential agony is a meditative corporeal, sexual paralysis, Haruki-san has pulled out the stops: If the story engine was hitting on all cylinders, he's then injecting nitrous oxide for a boost that takes the reader home.

The last two-thirds of 1Q84 are reader-tension heaven.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin, Knopf, New York, 944 pp., ISBN: 978-0307593313.

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The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

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