Thursday, November 17, 2011

IQ84

I'm about half way through Haruki Murakami's IQ84 which is set in an alternative 1984 Japan. Murakami has always rubbed me the wrong way and I think he's been a bit overpraised in the past, especially by American critics. In one of the two Murakami novels I read prior to this one the Johnnie Walker walking man logo came alive and in another one there was a talking cat. This taxed my patience. I suppose it is magical realism or Kafkaesque surrealism or something. I found it intensely irritating and not at all cute. I haven't liked a talking cat since Alice in Wonderland and that kitty isn't so cute either.
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Murakami began to turn for me when I read his non fiction book about running What I Talk About When I Talk About Running which I enjoyed very much. And I have to say that I'm liking this book quite a bit too. There are magical realism elements in IQ84 but so far they have been held in check. The plot is pacy and the characters interesting. One of the leads is a hack novelist who ghost writes a novel for a damaged young woman. The other lead is an assassin who kills husbands who beat up their wives (alas she doesn't get Sean Penn even in an alternate 84). This is all to the good. The down side is that Murakami sometimes has the tendency to over explain obvious things and when the dreaded magic element appeared it was a bit sillier than I had been expecting. Silly but also, impressively, a bit scary. The book has peculiar similarities with the other Japanese novel I read this year The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet: both have dual protagonists who tell their stories in alternate sections and who are strangely connected; and at the heart of both novels is a weird Japanese religious cult. Actually if you were to take Jacob De Zoet and mash it with the Iain Banks novel Transitions (which I also read this year) you'd pretty much get IQ84. 
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More when I eventually finish this very long book.