Tony's Reviews > 1Q84

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
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Nov 19, 11

bookshelves: japanese
Read from November 05 to 19, 2011

On how fiction is not like math:

The role of a story was, in the broadest terms, to transpose a single problem into another form. Depending on the nature and direction of the problem, a solution could be suggested in the narrative. Tengo would return to the real world with that suggestion in hand. It was like a piece of paper bearing the indecipherable text of a magic spell. At times it lacked coherence and served no immediate practical purpose. But it would contain a possibility. Someday he might be able to decipher the spell. That possibility would gently warm his heart from within.

Perhaps Murakami was writing his own review of 1Q84, an apology maybe, by the above-quoted passage. Because, really, no one knows for sure whether a daikon radish being grated into a salad is just some random bit of minutiae, filler, or whether it has some hidden existential meaning. Does it matter if the chinos are pleated or not. Don't know. Don't care. I just like the shadow world that Murakami takes me to and I admit to getting a bit confused with the real world around me when reading him. Which is to say: Hell, I don't know what it means either. But he helps me focus and he does indeed suggest somewhere in there a possibility, one that warms me.

Tengo, the male protagonist mentioned above, is both mathematician and novelist. At the age of ten he does a kind thing and a ten year-old girl holds his hand. That, just that, will cause a lasting imprint for them both and twenty years later will make them need to find each other. This is the core of this 900-page story. I can see how many readers will find this wispy, even immature. Not me. I believe Murakami when he writes that there are distances that can't be measured - Like the distance that separates one person's heart from another.

However, here's my own mathematical formula: Murakami's 1Q84 is to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (or Kafka on the Shore for that matter) as Richard Russo's Empire Falls is to his Nobody's Fool (or Risk Pool for that matter). Meaning, there is a recycling of themes, symbols, even plot lines. For Russo, just change father and son to father and daughter, as long as the father is divorced or divorcing and can go to an upstate New York diner and hang with a farrago of characters. For Murakami, the male protagonist must have Oedipal angst, has lost a current love, is searching for the true love and deep answers, and is obsessed with ears, music, cats, and breasts...not necessarily in that order. This time, have the female protagonist obsess about her breasts too. But make it artsy by creating two moons, which just happen to have the same asymmetrical shape as, you guessed it, our female protagonist's breasts. I mention and compare Russo because in both Empire Falls and 1Q84, a gun is introduced early in the narrative. And you know what Chekhov said? What? You Don't? That's okay. Russo and Murakami both tell us that Chekhov wrote that "once a gun appears in a story, it has to be fired at some point." Or does it? I'm no plot spoiler.

This book felt padded to me, as if Murakami had to make it long so it could be his magnum opus, or another Wind-Up Bird Man. So there is a lot of filler. But the characters are wonderfully drawn, new friends. The imagination is as rich as ever. It warmed me. Maybe some day I will even be able to decipher its spell.

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