Wednesday, December 28, 2011

1Q84 Book 1, 2 & 3 - Haruki Murakami

I am not a great fan of huge books. It gives me logistic issues , more than anything. Difficult to carry to the places where I tend to read a lot. More over, I do not have the level of concentration, in the current circumstances, to read a large book in one go. This book, however, has been conveniently split into 3 parts, Book 1, 2 and 3 with 300 odd pages apart. That makes it easy to read a book per session and give it a break ( with another small book) and get back. To my surprise, I could finish the book in a month along with another 3 shorter books.

1Q84 has been the book of the year in 2011, with all the attention and hype around it. Already a best seller in the Japan, where it was published in three separate editions ( one book per release). The English translation, this year, had book 1&2 coming out earlier this year and the book 3 towards November. Interestingly, book 3 was translated by a different person from that of Book 1&2. It did attract all sort of reaction from being very positive to not so enthused among the reading public and critics. I did read his 'Kafka on the Shore' earlier this year, and was not all that impressed, considering the hype it created.
1Q84 takes cue from George Orwell's celebrated 1984 ( some quick search tells me, in Japanese 9 is written similar to Q). He do mention the 1984 book in this and do tries to establish a connection to the earlier work. In Murakami's book, 1Q84 is a new world akin to 1984 , where the 'little people' tries to control the things similar to the omnipresent 'big brother' in 1984. I guess the comparisons and similarities ends there. Well, not really, all these are happening in the year 1984.

1Q84, similar to Murakami's work tracks the story in 2 streams. Aomame, a specialized assassin , 30 years old, moved out of her Christian religious background in her early childhood, living a life of Physical Trainer in a health club. Tengo Kawana, a wannabe writer, maths wizard, 30 year old, works in a CRAM school 3 days a week as a maths trainer leads the other track. The book 1 starts with Aomame, in a cinematic fashion, gets about her task of eliminating one of her targets. Stepping out of the taxi, having stuck in a traffic jam, she climbs down from the elevated highway , on the advise of the driver, to a new road in order to reach the venue on time, she did not realize, that she is entering a new world ( metaphorically) where the life and rules of the games are different.
Tengo, with his numerous attempt to writer his own novel but manages to publish only a few of his stories, was asked by his 'publisher-editor-friend to rewriter the work of a 17 year old girl Fuka-Eri, whose novel 'Air Chrysalis' is being submitted to the 'Akutagawa prize' for the best young fiction. Mesmerized by the plot and the difference in the approach to the novel by this unknown girl, Tengo after the initial reluctance, agrees to re-write the novel for it to be better presented to the selection committee. No marks for guessing, that she won the prize and the book went on to be a best seller.

The trouble starts now. The girl, who wrote the book went missing, with her guardian uncle filing a missing person complaint with the police. Tengo starts getting threatening messages, initially trying to win him over with lucrative offerings. Despite the best efforts by the people involved in the publishing the book, to keep the ghost-writing issue hidden in wraps, this seems to have known to someone, who is not happy about the book published. It could also be possible that the events written in 'Air Chrysalis' is something happened in real and the 'little people' who is in charge of the religious sect 'Sakigake' is unhappy with events. Sakigake was earlier in the news for declaring themselves as a new religion, and their extremist outfit waging a war with the local police.

The plot gets complicated as Aomame is entrusted with the task of eliminating the leader of the Sakigake group. The connection is now established between the two narrative. Tengo by joining the forces in his capacity of writer, presumably trying to disrupt the world of 'little people' , and Aomame by eliminating the leader of the sect. The investigation also reveals the connection between Aomame and Tengo, as they were classmates 20 years back and an incident of comradery between them ( resulted in Aomame holding hands with Tengo) , continue to linger in their minds hoping for an eventual meeting again. Book 3, gets into the thriller part of the story with both Aomame and Tengo trying get out of the world 1Q84, one is aware of this and the other unaware. There are many other characters through out the narratives, some of them really does not add much to the plot.

Murakami, through out the narrative manages to keep the interest alive, and as a write, I guess that is plus point. The style and language is similar to his earlier work that I have read , profound at places and pretty ordinary at many places. He manages to move the story well with the dual narrative and to a potential link or cross over. I guess this is his forte. The use of a variation of 'magical realism' is interesting and I may be biased if I say, it did not appeal as good as it was with Marquez. the book also carry all the ingredients of a typical Murakami affair, the suspense, too many descriptive casual sex ( pretty poor at that) and fantasy characters and events.

I wouldn't say this is an extra ordinary book, but interesting none the less. Personally far better than his 'Kafka on the shore'. Some where the comparison came to the another mega book 2666 of Bolano. But the comparison ends at the size and the large canvas. 2666 was far superior to this. To many readers, the book 3 was sort of disappointment. After somewhat decent build up, and having the readers wait for the last part of the puzzle by delayed publication of book 3, he seems to have gone for an easy exit. May one hoped for some more intriguing finish, but he seems to have opted an easy way about it with a possibility of book 4, 5 and 6. Is it convincing or not, I am not sure. Did I like the way he finished the long book, I am not decided on a firm yes or no. Probably, I would go with the latter, as it seems to be a week surrender to the plot.

The novel is very clever, and tricky. He uses his characters well, often changing some of their outlook as it progressed. A timid young boy slowly gains confidence and stature, the hard and decisive assassin, looses some of that in between tending towards the softer side of woman in her, the dyslexic ( or presumably so) young girl displays a lot more foresightedness, the cunning detective.., Murakami is in control of his characters.

However, beyond the somewhat thrilling detective story, with his style of realism ( two moons, immaculate pregnancy, the little people of two inch height who emerge through the mouth and all that), there is no substance behind it. What it convey at the end to the reader ? Or is it falling in line with the description some one gave as "Harry Potter for adults".
1Q84 ( 2011 )

Haruki Murakami ( translated from Japanese by Jay Rubin ( book 1&2) and Philip Gabriel ( book 3))


925 Pages
More reviews : NY Times, Guardian, Complete Review , Independent

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