~written by Haruki Murakami
~translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel
Despite my deep interest in Japanese literature, I have somewhat surprisingly never read any of Haruki Murakami's works until his most recent novel 1Q84. 1Q84 was originally published in Japan in three volumes, the first two in 2009 and the final volume in 2010. Already an international bestseller and nominated for a Man Asian Literary Prize, the publication of the single volume English-language edition was probably one of the most anticipated releases in the United States for 2011. I find it very strange, although I'm sure there are very good reasons for it, but two different translators worked on 1Q84: Jay Rubin translated the first two books and Philip Gabriel translated the third. 1Q84 was the November 2011 selection for the Japanese Literature Book Group which is why I finally got around to reading something by the world-renowned Murakami.
Tokyo, 1984. Aomame is a popular fitness and martial arts instructor at the gym where she works. She's also an occasional assassin, able to send a man to the other side quickly and silently while making the death appear to be natural. But Aomame begins to suspect something isn't quite right with her world when after her latest job she realizes that she seems to be missing memories. Elsewhere in the city, Tengo, a math teacher at a cram school and an aspiring author, has been somewhat reluctantly roped into ghostwriting a short novel called Air Chrysalis for a new writers competition. He doesn't expect anything good to come from the scheme, but he still feels compelled to rewrite the story. But even Tengo couldn't anticipate just how much trouble his acquiescence will cause for all those involved in the subterfuge.
For most of the novel, 1Q84 is told in chapters alternating between Aomame and Tengo's perspectives. At first their stories seem completely unrelated but as the novel progresses the deep connection between the two is slowly revealed. However, I simply didn't feel the inescapable draw that is supposed to exist between Tango and Aomame and that is supposed to be one of the driving forces behind 1Q84. Nevertheless, I did like the general structure of the novel and the use of repeated keywords, phrases, and cultural references that tie everything closer and closer together. I loved how what the characters initially believe to be fictional elements steadily encroach upon their realities. The change in the translator for the third book is noticeable but fortunately isn't too jarring. The style might be slightly different, but it was a decent breaking point since a third perspective is also introduced in the final volume.
Air Chrysalis is described as a work that fascinates and delights just as much as it confuse and perplexes. In may ways, those words could just as easily be applied to 1Q84. The novel is wondrously peculiar. Even so, I found parts of 1Q84 to be extremely frustrating. For one, I'm not entirely convinced it needed to be as long as it was. While I appreciated the incorporation of musical and literary touchstones, Murakami has a habit of going off on tangents that aren't always obviously justified. Characters frequently rehash plot points that have already been well established without bringing anything new to the story. Conversations tended to be incredibly cryptic or esoteric. And as the novel approaches its end, time becomes less linear, disorienting, and out of sync. While this had the potential to be effective, it didn't quite work for me. I am glad I read 1Q84, there were parts of it I really enjoyed, but I do get the feeling it's probably not the best place to start reading Murakami.