Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, December 11, 2011

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (2011 -in English translation-944 pages)

The Reading Life Japanese Literature Project

Prior reviews of Murakami.  

Of the 840 posts on my blog, this is the hardest one for me to write and publish so far.  

Hummm.   Maybe someone needs to say this.      1Q84 is not at all a good work.   I almost feel like saying it flat out stinks.   I have read numerous blog posts analyzing 1Q84 in lofty terms for its  weakness and merits and profundities.        I am sure the status of Huruki Murakami (1949-Japan) is so high that no editor would ever dare say anything to him  as they know the book will be a big seller and a lot of money will be made from it.    I think people, including me, liked some of the other work of Murakami so much that they really wanted 1Q84 to be his War and Peace.  I wanted it to be the book that would get him his Nobel Prize.      There was a lot of prior to publication publicity on this book that had hopes really high.  (A lot of the hype came from book sellers and press reviewers paid for their services who may not have felt comfortable just saying what they really felt.)

The big romance in the book was really not credible.  The little people that figure so heavily in the book reminded me of the Oompa-Loomas in Willie Wonka and the Chocalate Factory.   I wondered what clothes they wore as they emerged from people, did they all have uniforms or what and I was waiting for them to burst into song.   The character of "the dowager" was kind of interesting but, maybe this is the fault of the translators,  to keep calling her that over and over reminded me of something out of a bad rewrite of a Daphne de Maurier novel.  

The novel was very repetitious with the same things being told to us over and over.   I have seen it suggested that  1Q84 should get the infamous "bad sex award".  I got sick of hearing about the life of an NHK collector.    One of the central characters, The Leader, is a serial pedophile.   The main female character seemingly has an immaculate conception with the baby of her old elementary school sweetheart.   The details of how this supposedly happens and their reunion and how it came about are among the really bad parts of the story.

The religious cult that plays such a big part in the book was completely uninteresting.   Kenzaburo Oe has done a much better job with this sort of thing in his Somersault.   

If I had to say what parts of this book I liked best, I would say I liked the descriptions of the bodies of the adult women.  OK and I know this is not a real intellectual reaction on my part!  Murakami is a master at describing  the bodies of women.  (I know this is hardly a complement to the book!)

If I had gotten this book as an ARC from a brand new author I would not have finished it unless I was being paid to read it and I do not   think many others would finish it.

OK who should read this book?   If  like  me,  you are really into the work of Murakami you should probably read this book to experience it for yourself and satisfy your curiosity.   If like me you are very into Japanese lit you probably need to read it.   I bought it  as a  Kindle edition for $11.00 on Amazon.   Please do not pay the full $30.00 price unless that amount of money means nothing to you-just wait a few months and you will be able to buy it for $10.00 or less from an Amazon merchant.     I do not endorse this book to anyone else.     If Murakami produces another novel, I will for sure still give him the earned on his old books respect of reading it but I  will not be as excited to do so as I was when I started 1Q84.

I feel bad to write this but I feel a need to express my feelings.    If some are offended by my words, just look at the 100 plus other posts I have done on Japanese literature, including 11 on Murakami and you will see I am almost never negative on a work I read.   If anything, I sometimes get to carried away with the love of what I read.

I am sorry to be so negative but I want to be honest.  

You can find lots of blog and other posts going into the great depths of this chunkster-just do a book blog search on them.   I think from reading them a lot of people are having  hard time admitting to themselves the truth about this book.

I love the Japanese novel.   There are so many good even great books and short stories. It is an inexhaustible field I will be reading in for the rest of my life.    I do not yet think there is a Japanese novel that could be ranked in the top 10 or maybe even top 40 on a world's best novel list.   For sure 1Q84 does not belong on such a list.

I know some people will not like this post and may wonder if I am having a bad day or something.   No, not as I can see and I look for that if I post something negative.  

Please feel free to tell me I am totally wrong on this.

Mel u


Mel said...

Hi Mel U, I have not read anything by the author, but as I have not been living under a rock, I have heard and read alot of the hype about this novel. Your reviews always seem so thoughtful and intelligent to me, and this one is no exception. Sometimes we just have to call it like it is :) I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

Harvee said...

Mel: I like your forthrightness and honesty about your reactions to the novel. Having only read one other Murakami all the way through - After Dark - and loving it, I picked up 1Q84 with open eyes, wanting to be wowed. I was wowed in many instances and confused in others. I admit the crime mystery aspect intrigued me and was a big part in my following the book all the way through.

I would love to have your comments on my own Thoughts on 1Q84

@parridhlantern said...

Not yet read this and as a murakami fan (am sitting typing this in my 1q84 t-shirt) it saddens me that a fellow fan whose opinion I admire has been disheartened enough to write this & feels me with trepidation for when I come to read it. Although obviously I still will & will let you know how it appeared to Mr. Thanks for your honest appraisal .

Rise said...

Appreciate your frank thoughts about this book. Truth is I'm already hostile to the book's poor writing after reading a couple of chapters. Like Gary, I'll still be reading the book. I'll try to have an open mind about it when I read it.

Unknown said...

I think you are totally wrong! That said, no book is for everyone. I hated Freedom by Franzen, for instance.

I couldn't put this book down. The twists to reality and the way the characters lives keep morphing...I found a lot that surprised me and made me laugh. I didn't want it to end. The bizarre details made this my favorite Murakami yet.

Amy said...

Interesting. I have to say that I appreciate your honestly. Not every book is for every person. I do tend to question a book when everyone loves it so I'm happy to see your negative review. I have this book on my TBR pile. I started it a few weeks ago but then put it down when I couldn't get into it. I'm hoping that's not a sign of things to come.

Emily said...

No need to apologize for one's opinion that a book is poor! I've loved prior Murakami but Kafka on the Shore wasn't my favorite. It seemed to me when I read Kafka that Murakami was headed in a less focused, more "mystical" direction—a direction I didn't particularly like compared to his other work (my personal favorites are A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance). So, especially given 1Q84's length, I was already slightly hesitant about picking it up. Having read a few other mixed reviews, I'll definitely be waiting for the paperback release at least before giving this a try.

And oh, I agree on this:

Murakami is a master at describing the bodies of women.

And I think that's a legit compliment! :-)

JoV said...

I have never read any negative review from you, so this book must really disappoint you. I'll tread with caution and see if this is one for me. Thanks for the review.

Suko said...

Mel, thank you for your very honest review of this book!

Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree with you on this book, as I enjoyed it very much. Sure, there were some elements and sections which I found to be weak (e.g. Tengo's relationship with his older, married girlfriend), but I think when the reader climbs down the metal stairs of the freeway's emergency exit with Aomame, we must accept that the world of 1Q84 is different from our own, what with its disturbing cult leaders and immaculate conceptions. I also found the mysteriousness of the Fuka-Eri character compelling.

As others have commented, we all have our own, honest reactions to the books we read, and I, for one, would never assume my reaction or interpretation to be the only "correct" one. Hope you have better luck with your next Murakami!


Astrid (Mrs.B) said...

Hi Mel, It's brave of you to write a review like this. I read Book 1 & 2 and then decided to stop. Yes, it was very repetitious. Yes, the bizarre elements were to weird for my taste. You are right about the oompa loompa type characters. I laughed when you said you expected them to burst into song. I mean I can suspend disbelief easily enough but little people coming out of goats just takes the cake! I was interested at first in the thriller aspect but I lost interest after Aomame completed her assignment.

And just like you I'm a Murakami fan. I have loved most of his earlier works and have listed 2 of them in my blog page titled 'A Readers Table', or my favorite books of all time. I feel like this is a case of The Emperor's New Clothes where just because he is Murakami, everyone is afraid to say they didn't like it. I myself didn't want to write a bad review so I didn't. But your review makes me think I definitely should.

Bellezza said...

Hmmm. I have to agree with you that it was one of the hardest posts I "had" to write, and publish, but not because I hated it so much as as that it left me neutral. I wanted to love it, I waited for it with bated breath for two years, but much like you, I felt it disappointed. The Little People resembling Oompa Loompas is hilarious! What an image! As to the description of bodies of women, I don't think I remember much beyond the description of Aomame's. Maybe this was a case of just too much hype, but I think it did fall short of what I'd hoped for from Murakami. I get what he wanted to say about love/relationships/religious cults, but this will never be one of my favorite works of his.

Anonymous said...

I was very surprised by your review, but I thank for sharing your opinion, that prompted a string of very interesting comments. I actually share Jenny's point of view. I enjoyed every line of 1Q84, both for the style (and not only about women's bodies!) and content, and it is now my favorite Murakami's book, and my favorite read for 2011 (I read about 100 titles this year. Some books create hate or love reactions.
You might want to consider the haunting presence of the little people as the counterpoint of the oppressive presence of "big brother" in 1984, as another blogger I follow suggested.
and if you want to see what I enjoyed in this book, here is my review:

WordsBeyondBorders said...

It is indeed a difficult situation when you dislike a writers work when you are a big fan of his other works. But that's they way it goes sometimes and good for you to spell out your thoughts on 1Q84 frankly. It would indeed be boring if we are to get only praises always.

Am a die hard Murakami fan and have not read 1Q84, but I will, in-spite of the largely negative reaction it has been getting.

Unknown said...

I disagree with you for the most part (although there are some things I am with you on!). While the Little People are plain silly, and there is a lot of repetition, the novel, as a whole, is a good one. I actually think that it's one that needs to be reread to be understood fully, and I suspect that it is actually closest to 'The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle' in its themes (the book, by the way, in which Ushikawa first appears...).

In reading Murakami, there is a definite requirement to suspend disbelief, and the central plot detail during the thunderstorm is a perfect example of this. If you attempt to analyse this logically, of course it will all fall apart.

But this is 1Q84, after all ;)

I will be trying to discuss some of these points later this week in a third, more sensible, post on the book (my first two are a little more tongue-in-cheek!).

Mel u said...

Mel-thanks very much-it was hard for me to post this-

Harvee-After Dark was my 1st Marakumi also-I went on to read 11 other works before 1Q84-I will comment on your very well done post soon

Parrish Lantern-yes you must read it even if every one hates it!

Rise-after following your blog for a long time, I would be surprised if you did not have real reservations with the book-

Mel u said...

Jenny-thanks so much for your visit and comment-I learn more from those who say I am wrong than those who agree with me

Amy-give the book a chance-culturally it will be big for a long time-

Emily-thanks for your very thoughtful comment-I appreciate it a lot-I am glad you agree with what I said about Murakami and women

Jov-yes treat this book with caution, try to get a library copy

Suko-thanks very much for your comment-you know I almost never am negative on what I read and this was not easy for me to post

niamh said...

Your post was very interesting precisely because of your honesty around your disapointment and feelings of conflict around writing a negative review

- I too love Murakamis writing but for some reason I'm not a hundred percent surprized that this novel hasnt worked -

I'll still read it, but now I'll be borrowing it from a library, so thanks:)

HonestConvoGal a/k/a Amy said...

Thank you! I pre-ordered the book and waited anxiously for its arrival. I slogged through the first 9 or 10 chapters and then noticed a feeling I began having at the same point during the Larson books. It was, "I know I should like this book. Wise reviewers tell me it is good. But the sex sucks, the details are extraneous, and the translation is awkward." I want to like it. It is a big, important book loved by not only The New York times, but also by bloggers I respect. But I don't. Plain and simple. I too couldn't care less about commuication fees or Anomome's small boobs. The little people are parodies of fantasy characters. The detailed passages about food and music just gift the book heft, not seriousness. It just isn't that great of a book. I feel validated that someone else feels that way. I was afraid I was the problem. You know, given that The Establishment as blessed it, prayed over it, and deemed it Worthy. Thanks again for an honest review.

Arti said...

Too big a book for me to venture into, but I've enjoyed reading your review. I'm more into the older classic Japanese writers like Kawabata. I'll be reading his Sound of the Mountain soon, nothing like 1Q84 I'm sure.

JoAnn said...

You are absolutely entitled to your opinion on any book (even one so long-awaited and hyped), especially when it is presented in such a thoughtful manner. I have yet to read Murakami, but plan to start with After Dark.

Mel u said...

Bibliophiliac-I have read 11 of his works-I still have a lot of short stories I will read eventually -thanks as always for your comment and visit

Mrs B-thanks for supporting my opinion-I do think a lot of people, especially paid book reviewers, are hesitant to say what they really think about this book

Bellezza-thanks for offering your much valued take on the work

wordsandpeace-I knew my post would surprise my readers as I almost never post anything negative-I will study your post on 1Q84-I think once I got the image of my mind of the little people as the Oopma Loompas it was hard not to see them as silly-

Mel u said...

Tony-your points are somewhat redundant but still interesting

HonestConvoGal a/k/a Amy-thank you for your support on this-it seems more and more people are coming out and saying they do not like 1Q84-I also found the life of the media fee collector totally not worth such a huge coverage, I got tired of Anomome's constantly complaining about the size of her breasts and her preoccupation with the size of the breasts of her police woman friend-there is also the scene with the three nurses from the nursing home where one of them while intoxicated wants to show off her breasts-the little people concept interested me at first then it just got too flat out silly for me-and I like stories about Fairies, leprecauns and such

Art-thanks very much for your visit and comment

Joann-thanks for your visit and comment-After Dark was my first of his works-I think I have read all of his longer fiction but one early no longer in print book-if he comes out with another 1000 page book in a few years, I will be eager to give it a try

Budd said...

I hate to agree with you on 1Q84 being a stinker, but I do. It sucked. I powered through it hoping that it would get better or that the story would be worth it, but was disappointed on both fronts. The ghost NHK collector plot was just kind of dropped. Tengo told his father to stop, but it continued on until he died, but what was the point, it added nothing to the story and was completely pointless.

I mean, we were shown a whole lot of "guns" throughout the novel and absolutely none of them were "fired." This one just felt like a waste of my time. Like or dislike, I have never felt that way about a Murakami novel before.

Mel u said...

Budd. i agree the book does "suck" in so many ways. Major disappointment, seems more and more people are admitting this now.

. said...

Thank you. I think Murakami has always been awful. Even people who say they like him can't fully endorse more than one or two of his works.

Open any one of his books and read a few lines and you are soon to come across a candidate for The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.