Thursday, April 05, 2012

'1Q84' by Haruki Murakami

5 April 2012

Any author who references George Orwell in the title of their novel risks inviting unfavourable comparisons. But Haruki Murakami clearly knows exactly what he is doing in ‘1Q84’, his mammoth new 3-volume novel. This is the work of an author at the top of his game: not content with drawing analogies with ‘1984’ he goes on to cite Dickens, Chekov and others as well as providing expert analysis of the music of Janáček, Duke Ellington etc. Despite this complexity of cultural context there’s a deceptive simplicity to Murakami’s writing: it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether this is high literature or crowd-pleasing popular culture. There’s certainly a lot of sex in his books but all described, like everything else he writes about, in slow, careful, precise terms. There might be a degree of the emperor’s new clothes about all this but it feels to me that Murakami is in total control and that it is the reader rather than the author who risks being left naked. I’ve just finished reading ‘1Q84’ as an unabridged audio book translated by Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin and read by Alison Hiroto, Marc Vietor and Mark Boyett. Each chapter is told, in the third person, from the point of view of one of the main characters so having alternating narrators really helped to emphasise this contrast. ‘1Q84’ is a very slow, painstakingly clear narrative but always felt gripping and compelling. Murakami’s trademark magical realism is used very sparingly and is all the more effective for appearing out of a very real and precisely drawn world. I enjoyed the book and it held my attention throughout but ultimately I felt a little disappointed by it. Despite its length the novel didn't seem to have the complexity, substance and humour of some of Murakami's best earlier works. I think my favourite is still ‘'Kafka on the Shore’ (reviewed here in October 2006).



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