Sunday, April 27, 2014

Book Review: IQ84

Sometimes, usually no more than once or twice a year, I'll read or watch something and choose not to review it since I feel like there's just no way I can talk about it. That's how I felt after I read my first Murakami book, A Wild Sheep Chase, and yet despite that I was interested in IQ84. Not necessarily because of the story but rather at how widely praised it seemed to be, I was just curious what exactly had grabbed seemingly so many people. So when one of my groups of friends, which happens to have a book club in it, decided that this was going to be their next book I hunted down a copy at a local library and got to reading a book so large I felt like it counted as an actual self-defense weapon when I had to walk home late at night by myself.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

As hinted at by the pun in the title, the story begins in 1984 where Aomane makes an odd choice to get to a business meeting on time and eventually works out that her choice lead her to an alternate world. Few things seem different here except for the existence of a strange cult in the Japanese countryside. Also in this world is Tengo, a cram-school teacher whose been drafted by a friend to help rewrite a novel for a literary competition and take the grand prize. But this story also seems to be about a cult in the countryside with some strange beliefs indeed, where does fiction end and reality begin in this strange new world?

While I did like parts of this book in the end I can't really say I enjoyed the book for myriad reasons. For me a lot of it boiled down to me asking "why was this book written, what happened to the characters or the plot to make it a story?" since in the end, a lot had changed and yet nothing really changed at all. Even though Aomane and Tengo are in an alternate world there's practically nothing different about their lives and I can't say they really grow or change despite everything they go through. I was also bothered at how a lot of plot threads were just snipped off before they could fully play out, like the fate of Aomane's friend the police officer (where it's hinted, but never quite stated, what happened and I was almost hurt that Aomane didn't continue to question about that when she had the chance) or how Tengo spends the entire book wondering if his father was his father, comes to a sort of peace about it by the end, and then a completely unrelated character makes a one off comment to the reader which explains it yet Tengo never finds out. I feel as if Murakami was going for the idea of "life isn't a neat and tidy set of events so there are things that will never pan out or you will ever know" but I have issues with that line of storytelling and Tengo's father came as such an inadvertent shock to me I honestly wondered if it was supposed to be in there.

I did wonder if a lot of the book was needed actually since this is a massive book, my hardcover was about 850 pages and it covers nine months of a year with way more detail than needed. The rest of my book club complained that Murakami would spend too much time introducing a character or place that would appear for one scene and never again. I didn't think that myself but my point of reference is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which would literally go on for two or more pages about one-off characters so my perception is a bit skewed here and I do disagree with the stylistic choice in general. I feel that overly emulating what end up being unimportant details does not make a book more "realistic" or "grounded," it feels like an indulgence and that I would have enjoyed the book at bit more if it had clipped along at a faster pace (instead of burying the few parts I did like in mundanity).

Also, all the sex. As someone who is completely uninterested in sex I'm not sure calling me a prude would be quite right (irony of all irony I read this as part of an asexual book club, none of us had expected this) and I have read books with quite a bit of sex in them before (Clan of the Cavebear, Valley of Horses I am looking at you). However, this was a lot of sex, lots of sex, but what bothered me the most was that it's revealed that both Aomane and Tengo masturbate to their memory of the other when they were both about 10. And that some of the actual sex scenes in the book involve a 17 year old (I'm not sure what the age of consent is in Japan but, since I'm used to it being 18, that felt squicky) and then the series ends with a very weird pregnancy, which is of course a fantastic idea. All in all while I liked parts of the book I was left feeling like this for a large part of it, "how in the world was this a good idea?" and I can't really say that I recommend this book because of it.

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