1Q84 In Hindsight

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

1984 by George Orwell is one of my all-time favorite books.

That’s why when I saw the title ‘1Q84’ while browsing the book store I was more than a little interested. 1Q84 is a novel by famous Japanese Author Haruki Murakami and “as the title suggests, a mind-bending ode to George Orwell’s Nineteen eighty-four. (The number 9 in Japanese is pronounced like the letter Q)”

Imagine my disappointment, then, when 1Q84 had absolutely nothing to do with Orwell or 1984, besides a few throwaway references. Heck, my own novel has more in common with 1984 – both heavily feature the theme of propaganda.

But despite my disappointment in this regard (I was hoping for a 1984-in-tokyo – We were always at war with Oceana.) I guess I can’t really fault the book for that; it might have still been interesting despite its misleading title and blurb.  Might have been.

I was not aware so little could happen in 300 pages. In total, 1Q84 is a monolithic 900 pages, split into three books – I have only read the first one. The story (if you can call it that) follows Aomame, an assassin who hunts down and kills wife-beaters and child-rapists with a modified ice pick so small it leaves no trace of the murder. Or, that’s what we are told – In the 308 pages of book 1, only once does Aomame do anything remotely interesting. In the second chapter she sneaks into a hotel dressed as a member of staff come to check the air conditioner – There, she assassinates a businessman. This was early in the book, and mislead me into thinking there was an interesting plot, but the rest of the chapters about on Aomame focus on either her history ( which is told and re-told, without even adding more detail the second, third and fourth time) or her sex life. Murakami goes into great detail about Aomame’s preference in men – middle aged, balding and slightly plump (by coincidence, I’m sure, that’s what Murakami himself looks like) – and we Follow Aomame and her young friend, Ayumi, though the nightlife of Tokyo as they search for sex partners and have ‘rumpus sex feasts.’

But 1Q84 is about two characters, their story told though alternating chapters. The Second one is only slightly more interesting. Tengo is middle-aged writer living alone and working on his first novel when he becomes involved in a literary conspiracy. He is approached by his editor and asked to re-write a remarkable novel written by a 17 year old girl (Who has a nicely shaped chest, which is mentioned so much you’d think it was important). The core story of this 17-year-olf girl’s novel is brilliant, or so we are told, but the writing style is horrendous. All Tengo has to do is re-write it so it can win a contest and be sold. After some (a few chapters) debate Tengo accepts and is soon stuck elbow-deep in the conspiracy with his editor and Fuka-Eri, the 17-year-old dyslexic writer of ‘Air Chrysalis” (with a nicely shaped chest.) Oh, before I forget (I can’t forget, it’s featured every second chapter) we also read about Tengo’s sex life, and how his ‘older girlfriend’ gets very jealous.

None of this is to say 1Q84 is an Erotic novel – it’s not. While we read a lot about the characters sex lives any of the actual sex is left unexplained or IKEA Erotica. It’s just that Murakami has some determination to explain anything and everything as long it has no direct relevance to the plot (and if it does, it is skimmed over as quickly as possible). I know what kind of Pajamas Tengo wears (and what they smell like after Fuka-Eri has been wearing them,) and I know the finer details of Aomame’s diet and how she stays healthy and avoids constipation. I know about the Gilyaks, the natives of a small Russian island who don’t walk on roads. I know this because Tengo spends a chapter reading to Fuka-eri about them, while she sleeps in his bed in his pajamas, while her nicely shaped chest is mentioned every paragraph. It is exactly as creepy as it sounds. Despite never having heard the thing, I know more about Janacek’s Sinfonietta then a classical music professor.  1Q84 reads like an attempt to break free from writers block, where the writer just gushes anything and everything from their mind with no real plot, point or purpose above ‘writing something.’ I think most writers have done it when they are feeling a little writers block, but it’s not usually published.

Despite all this criticism, 1Q84 has some interesting things in it. There is a communist revolutionary organization lurking in the shadows; A religious cult with more secrecy than North Korea; the (very drawn out) promise that Aomame may undertake another assassination (when she gets out of the clubbing scene, it could be a few hundred pages yet,) some magical ‘Little people’ who are apparently very wise and remain mostly hidden, and a joint US/USSR project to build a functioning base on the moon, not to mention the fact there are two moons. But I do suspect those last two were thrown in just to prove to the reader the book isn’t set in the real 1984, and Murakami probably has no intention of following them through. But then, it doesn’t appear Murakami has any intention of following anything though in this novel.  I must admit, I am a little intrigued to find out more about the revolutionary organization and the cult, but I’m not willing to wade through another 600 pages of Murakami delving into excruciating detail about everything that comes to mind and the sex lives of his characters. I think I’ll give the Wikipedia page a whirl. Or maybe I’ll just go read 1984 again – At least the fact Julia and Winston had a sex life meant something.


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Boneshaker in Hindsight.

I like Steampunk.

In fact, Steampunk is my favorite genre. I also really like zombies. (Odd considering Treasonists involves neither.) So when I picked up ‘Boneshaker’ by Cherie Priest, a ‘Steampunk-zombie-airship adventure’, I was really excited. A little jealous I hadn’t done it first, but excited.

Unfortunately, it was a big letdown. The main characters are flat and I never really ‘connected’ with them or cared about them, which is a shame because if they were fleshed out some more it could have led to a very touching ending. The plot itself was largely fate driven, with characters flopping around until the antagonist was introduced in the last third of the book.  The plot starts off with Zeke’s quest to prove his father’s innocence and ‘rewrite history,’ but that gets lost somewhere in all the floundering around and it turns into a simple ‘overthrow the bad-guy’ plot. I guess I can’t talk, considering that’s what Treasonists is, but I think I’ve done it better.  The characters themselves don’t ever contribute to the plot (besides to get it rolling at the start), and just followed other characters. Even at the end of the book, they don’t do anything that couldn’t be achieved by a nice painting hung on the wall. During the climax, a large-scale battle breaks out. However, we only hear about it because the POV characters never take part. I think, at the very least, Priest should have head-hopped to a side character’s POV so we could take part in the action, as it felt a little like watching an action movie from the POV of someone sleeping in another room.  I honestly think the book would have been much better if it were about the side characters and their tensions with Dr. Minnericht.  There is a good book here, It’s just about the wrong people.

I think Priest could have done better if she fleshed the world a little more, developed the characters and strengthened the plot. Which doesn’t really leave much, does it? I honestly think she relied on the concept of the book (which is awesome, a quarantined city teeming with Rotters , scavengers and a tyrannical mad scientist) and forgot she needed to develop anything for it to work. I feel bad for saying that, because I know a lot of work probably went into the book – it just doesn’t seem like that.

Don’t let this spoil your views on Cherie, though. I’ve also read Dreadnought which was a an exciting novel, once it got started. It did take a while to get started. But it’s better in every way – better plot, better characters, and better zombies. That makes sense, considering it is a sequel (in the sense it’s set chronologically after Boneshaker and in the same world, and written after Boneshaker. They are entirely stand-alone.) I would recommend Dreadnought to any Steampunk fans, or zombie fans, or train fans. But unfortunately I can’t say the same about Boneshaker. I’ll admit I’m looking forward to reading the next one, Ganymede (And Clementine if I can get my hands on a copy), and if that has the same leap in quality as Boneshaker-to-Dreadnought has, it could well become one of my favorite books, especially considering its premise. I mean, who doesn’t love sky pirates?

But then, I said something very similar about Boneshaker a few weeks ago.