Here is what I was listening to while I was plugging away at my own writing this month. This is a very long novel, and I enjoyed listening to it while I drove around, washed dishes, ate lunch, ran a half marathon, and drove around some more. I was excited to find it on the new 1001 list, since I was already part way into it when I got a hold of the new list. This book actually made it into my novel, as one of the books that the mother recommends for her daughter to read after she is gone. It’s the first thing my main character reads as she tries to fill her days until reaching Europe.
Eyes closed, Aomame listened to the music, allowing the lovely unison of the brasses to sink into her brain. Just then it occurred to her that the sound quality was too good for a radio in a taxicab. Despite the rather low volume at which it was playing, the sound had true depth, and the overtones were clearly audible. She opened her eyes and leaned forward to study the dashboard stereo. The jet-black device shone with a proud gloss. She couldn’t make out its brand name, but it was obviously high-end, with lots of knobs and switches, the green numerals of the station readout clear against the black panel. This was not the kind of stereo you expected to see in an ordinary fleet cab.
She looked around at the cab’s interior. She had been too absorbed in her own thoughts to notice until now, but this was no ordinary taxi. The high quality of the trim was evident, and the seat was especially comfortable above all, it was quiet. The car probably had extra sound insulation to keep noise out, like a soundproofed music studio. The driver probably owned his own cab. Many such owner-drivers would spare no expense on the upkeep of their automobiles. Moving only her eyes, Aomame searched for the driver’s registration card without success. This did not seem to be an illegal, unlicensed cab, though. It had a standard taxi meter which was ticking off the proper fare: ¥2150 so far. Still, the registration card showing the drivers name was nowhere to be found.
Scenes like this are common in Haruki Murakami‘s 1Q84. On the surface, everything is normal, almost. The scenes work away at you, letting you know something is just a little off. For me, this was the book’s greatest strength. By mid way through the book, this experience of being slightly haunted by the plot and its details carried over to times when I wasn’t reading it, and I urgently wanted to get back to it.
The book is about Aomame, a woman who works at an elite gym, but has another less public job killing abusive men who would not otherwise be brought to justice, and Tengo Kawana, an aspiring author who is persuaded to rewrite a compelling but clunkily-written book by an odd 17 year old who has submitted the novel for a new writer’s prize. In the course of the novel, these two people, long separated childhood friends, are both drawn into a strange alternate world involving a religious cult and mysterious “little people” whose motives are not clear.
At the core of the book is a love story which at some level never fully worked for me. The idea that two kids who had not even spoken could deeply love one another years later, even if they did both have problematic families that helped them understand each other better than other kids could understand them, never felt believable. And yet I still liked the book. For me, the mysterious alternate world and its slightly eerie undercurrents were enough to keep me hooked in spite of the love story’s failure to ring true for me.
The book had another idiosyncratic appeal for me. It took place in the Tokyo of the mid 80s, just before the time when I lived there. It was so much fun for me to be back in the neighborhoods I remembered, shopping at places I knew, travelling on trains I had ridden. Ironically, this same connection was sometimes a source of irritation with the audio version of the book I listened to, as one of the narrators would periodically mispronounce the names of places I knew, popping me right out of the flow of the narrative.
On the other hand, some people have objected to things in the book that did not bother me. I was not bothered by the book’s length–possibly because I was listening to it rather than reading it. It was originally published as 3 separate volumes which came out a year or so apart from one another, and some degree of repetition in the book to reorient readers of the earlier sections was necessary. I wasn’t annoyed by this, possibly because it can be asset when listening while doing other things. I have also read critiques of the dialogue, arguing that it doesn’t read as natural. I didn’t notice any awkwardness, and it may be that my time living in Japan makes certain Japanese conversational patterns that would sound stilted to an American ear sound normal to me.
Several of my friends have said this was not their favorite Murakami. I’m excited to believe them, since that means that there are even better novels ahead for me. I liked this one fine, despite its drawbacks, and definitely suggest trying it, although audio may be the easier way to go if you are intimidated by gigantic books.
And the current October to December scorecard:
Around the World: S. America:
1 2 3; Other: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
1001 Books List:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
Pulitzer: Oct Nov Dec
Oct Nov Dec
Great African Reads:
1 2 3