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. 

20 comments:

Adrian said...

Peter Rozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders fame takes an early look at

The Cold Cold Ground, here

speedskater42k said...

I'm interested in 1Q84 and likely will get the audio book soon.

Does Murakami score any points w/ you for being a Chandler fan? He's translated several Chandler books (e.g., "Farewell, My Lovely") into Japanese.

adrian mckinty said...

Speedskater

Big points. And there is a nice mystery element throughout the book so far. Also a nice Chandleresque low key style.

Conor Mac said...

I'm almost finished Book 1, enjoying it a lot. I wasn't a big fan of Kafka on the Shore either.
I was so excited about this one arriving, then when it did it sat untouched on my desk at work for about a fortnight, the sheer size of it was a bit daunting.

Ali said...

I loved one of the stories but not the other, if that makes any sense.

adrian mckinty said...

Conor

Kafka on the Shore, right. The other one I read was Hard Boiled Wonderland I think. Actually I think I may have read 3 of his books before this. Isnt there one called The Wind Up Bird Chronicle? I remember reading a science fiction novel called The Wind Up Girl and thinking that I liked it (the sci fi one) much better.

adrian mckinty said...

Ali

Initially I liked the girl's story better but she lost me a bit when

SPOILER ALERT

the girl got kidnapped from the half way house and instead of ringing the alarm bells they spent the next few pages talking about what type of replacement dog to get.

Anonymous said...

The female protagonist was completely unbelievable, especially her obsession with the size of her own breasts. This reminded me of Lizbeth Salander! Women don't get together and talk about the size of their breasts, men like to think think they do but they don't.

adrian mckinty said...

Anon

Really? They dont? Thats a shame.

I did find that stuff in the book a bit pervy.

Frankie said...

I saw a 12year schoolboy reading a Murakami book on the train. I felt a smidgey bit sense of inadequecy at myself not being able to finish the one I tryed and here's this young upstart who has obviously given Harry Potter the swerve, flying through one of Murakami chunky ones.

adrian mckinty said...

Frankie

12 year old boys would like this one. Other Earths, lots of focus on the shape of women's breasts, Ninja style assassinations...

Gavin said...

I really like Murakami's early books a lot. Haven't read his more recent work yet, though. I liked "Hard-Boiled Wonderland," but it's definitely an outlier for his general body of work.

I think the short story is a good form for him, because he has to keep himself more in check.

Everyone talks about his protagonists being a sort of every-person, but I think that's a huge mis-reading. They tend to be really blase about things that would upset real people, or at least throw them off-balance. They go off onto weird tangents at a moment's notice (less so in the short stories), they tend to be slackers, and so on.

Reminds me that I've been meaning to finish the Wind-up Bird Chronicle for a while; I should get back to it (finished vol. 1, 2 & 3 to go).

lil Gluckstern said...

I read Murakami's short stories due to the urging of a patient (Disclosure-I'm a Jungian trained therapist), and I enjoyed them. I don't think I want to wander in these labyrinthine waters for too long; I do that in my work. Which is why I like down to earth, action packed books :) He is so different from Chandler. I feel as though I should like Murakami more, but I really can only take him in small doses.

adrian mckinty said...

Gav

I think populating your novels with people who dont react in real ways is a bit of a flaw. It annoys me a bit when EVERYONE is blase. I've been to Japan and I've seen Japanese people getting upset. I wonder if he thinks he has to project a certain image of the Japanese to themselves and the outside world.

adrian mckinty said...

Lil

I'm enjoying the book but I'm finding it hard to love it. I feel that if an American or British novelist had written it the books flaws would have been more eagerly dissected.

lil Gluckstern said...

With sadness, over the years, I have noted that some authors are in fashion, where disliking them can make you very unpopular. Meanwhile, I go around happily talking up Irish and Scottish Noir. Maybe it's my mood. Japanese art is very moving; but there is a lot of other stuff going on when we look at it. Murakami is far more lush than the simple beauty I've grown to expect of Buddhist shrines, for example.

adrian mckinty said...

Lil

My problem with Japanese Buddhist Shrines is that there is a lot of simple beauty swamped by 10,000 people taking photographs, making videos and listening to very noisy tour guides.

Gavin said...

Adrian,

I don't think that he's trying to project an image to the outside world -- his earlier works were written before his popular in the outside world. It's just the way he writes.

What I mean is, there's a very specific voicing that his characters have. I don't know if it translates well into English (I've only read him in Japanese). I feel like, even if they're an unreal sort of person, they're a very specific person -- I have a very clear image of this guy in my mind. Part of the reason I feel like "Hardboiled Wonderland" is an outlier is because that protagonist feels different from the others to me. He's more engaged in what's going on around him. (Leaving aside the more overt sci-fi feel, of course)

People in his stories do get upset; it's just that his protagonists don't, usually (although the guy in "Wind-up Bird" does get upset when he ends up in the well with no way out). For all I know, Murakami acts that way in real life :-).

adrian mckinty said...

Gav

Gav very cool that you've read him in Japanese!

I'm impressed.

And yes I am liking the book much better than the others I've read.

However whats the deal with the breasts throughout this novel?

SPOILER ALERT

I just read the scene last night where the protagonist's friend is murdered in a sex crime and instead of spiraling into a cycle of grief and panic she starts waffling about away about the size of her own breasts again.

Women are constantly talking about their breasts and comparing them, touching them etc. If a western male writer had written stuff like this he would have been laughed out of town.

rb said...

**possible spoilers

when i picked up the talking cat one i sensed the recurring themes in Murakami's that i put it away because i thought there would be little surprise. when i got back to it about 2 years later, i actually found the ghosty and soldiery bits rather interesting as they reflect a lot on other ghosts ideas that i have been told over the years, in particular that ghosts are where they are because they are looking for closures. personally i don't believe in ghosts though.