May 18, 12
Read from April 16 to May 18, 2012
This was the first Murakami novel that I have struggled to finish. It felt like the author was trying to fit his usually organic style into a plot-driven sci-fi fantasy structure, and I think it was only partially successful. Some of Murakami's strengths are the calm pulse of his narratives and the meandering laze with which his stories negotiate their surprising turns. They move with the drift of a wide valley river, at the pace of someone who has time for introspection, which his heros tend to do. In trying to move away from this and harness the suspense and energy of old genre fiction, we end up with a weird hybrid that is neither fully daydream-Murakami nor particularly suspenseful or action-pulpy. Like the protag, it's kinda stuck between two worlds and not especially excelling in either.
On the other hand, it delivers many of the usual Haruki M. niceities. The surprising metaphors that somehow communicate with excruciating precision (can something be as quiet as the inside of an iceberg? Wow); the attention to details in the characters' clothing; sharpened pencils; a curated soundtrack; otherworldly adventures in the far reaches of consciousness. I don't remember any spaghetti, but there was definitely more whiskey than usual. And the story's concept is an interesting one. A story about zen, experimental brain surgery, and astral worlds.
At its best this novel resembles old futuristic noir like Blade Runner, and even moreso its predecessor, Godard's Alphaville (obviously intentional, as homeboy mentions Godard somewhere around the middle). Too often, though, it reads like the hammiest sci-fi swill. The dialogue from M. Night Shyamalan's wretched embarrassment The Village would be a close comparison. People talking in a sort of faux-archaism, eschewing contractions and phrasing things like they're staring off into space, heavily narcotized. The kind of dialogue that sometimes actually made me think "man, this shit is awful"--something that has never happened while reading Murakami.
So maybe I'm just not much of a sci-fi/fantasy reader, but I consider this to be little more than an interesting curiosity in the back corners of the author's oeuvre, with a few good ideas and a daring if unsuccessful departure from form.