Well, I’ve finally finished Book 2 of 1Q84 and I have mixed feelings; I am still a very big fan of Haruki Murakami’s other works, but I just don’t think this is my favourite of his novels. The second book continues the connected stories of Aomame and Tengo, which gradually begin to interweave more and more. It turns out that they already know one another from childhood, and because of a moment when Aomame held Tengo’s hand in their classroom at the age of ten, they have a bond that has lasted for twenty years. In Book 2, Tengo joins Aomame in the parallel world of 1Q84, and it is revealed that Aomame’s difficult decision (whether to rid the world of a dangerous cult leader through murder) will affect Tengo’s fate as well as her own.
It is difficult to classify this novel, as it combines elements of magical realism, science fiction and crime thriller. The surreal details and settings were what I liked the most about this book. For example, when Aomame and Tengo suddenly see two moons in the sky (a sign that they are now in 1Q84), the strangeness of this experience is very well described. I liked the way Aomame could just climb down a rickety step-ladder next to a motorway and find herself in a parallel universe. There is a very otherworldly atmosphere at times, such as in the luxurious hotel where Aomame goes to complete her murder assignation, where ‘the men and women crossing and recrossing the lobby looked like ghosts tied in place by some ancient curse’. I also enjoyed the story Tengo reads while on a train journey, ‘Town of Cats’, about a young man who becomes stranded in a town inhabited only by cats. This story-within-a-story was one of the most memorable parts of the book for me, and it reflects a theme in Murakami’s books which I always find interesting, the sensation of being trapped somewhere and unable to return to one’s previous life.
One problem I found with the novel was that the characters didn’t completely engage me. When Fuka-Eri and then Tengo’s girlfriend both mysteriously disappear, Tengo feels sad in a wistful, nostalgic kind of way, but he barely seems worried and he certainly doesn’t do anything to try to find out what’s happened to them. He has the same apathetic attitude to his father, who’s ill and living in a sanatorium. I felt quite sorry for the father, which I don’t think was the intended reaction. Aomame’s self-sacrifice and deep love for Tengo therefore seem misplaced!
I also didn’t like the way child abuse was described in the book since it was almost presented as acceptable in the unreal science-fiction world of 1Q84. I felt that subjects such as incest were described in a voyeuristic way, and the relationship between Fuka-Eri and Tengo was slightly paedophilic, especially the sex scene. And the worst of it all was that these actions were justified within the world of the book because of the totally far-fetched science-fiction storylines, in which certain characters don’t exist as people but only as ‘concepts’. The plot became slightly implausible and the strange conditions of life within the cult and the parallel world of 1Q84 had to be explained through long conversations between characters. I personally sometimes found it difficult to believe.
One thing I noticed about the writing style is that characters are often likened to objects, for example a large man might be described as like a building or a silent, secretive person as ‘like a rock on the far side of the moon’ (I like this image). This happens often enough that I feel it must be deliberate and mean something. Women, even very minor characters like a nurse in the hospital or a secretary at Tengo’s work, are always described in terms of how attractive they are to men (literally, how big their breasts are or how ‘symmetrical’ their features or what designer clothes they are wearing), while we are repeatedly told how hideous the most obviously evil male character is. Yes, I do sometimes want to know what characters look like but this way of doing it didn’t appeal to me much. I can understand that things like this probably don’t bother some people, as it may seem a minor aspect of an otherwise interesting book, but I just feel that for me it makes those characters into caricatures.
I am still going to read Book 3 when I get hold of it, because I’ve come so far and I can’t give up now! If I’ve read over half of a book, I always feel compelled to finish it – and I must admit, I am curious. 1Q84 is very easy to read (I love Jay Rubin’s translations) and it is interesting, maybe just not the type of book I personally enjoy. I still like Murakami a lot and hope to read more of his books in future.