2009Haruki Murakami ∙ 925 pgs

Full disclosure: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is one of my favorite books of all time, so all Murakami books are judged against it. This book, it seemed from the get go, was almost his answer to that beloved novel. It’s long and out there and has his usual mysticism mixed with the mundane, the ancient mixed with the modern and that same male protagonist who acts almost in the absence of motivation and self-interest. In this case, we have Tengo Kawana, a former child math prodigy and promising judo competitor who has now, at 30, settled into a very comfortable, albeit sedentary, and uneventful life as a math tutor at a college prep school. Like all of Murakami’s male leads, he is content with just eating, breathing and just kind of going about his day without rocking the boat. He has a side interest in writing and sleeping with his older, married girlfriend on a weekly basis, but he is all-in-all a pretty unremarkable guy in his present-day incarnaiton. And it seems his life would have remained that way had his friend, the book editor, not roped him into a conspiracy of sorts.

And that conspiracy all revolves around this book editor getting Tengo, his friend and mentee, to rewrite a weird, but promising, submission for one of the literary contests he judges for publication. The issue is, of course, that they need the author of the story to be complicit in their plan. Their plan that involves her remaining the named author and face of the novel, but actually having Tengo take her concept and storyline and put it in pretty, commercial sentences. But that’s when things start getting wacky. The author, as it turns out, is a hot teenage woman, Fuka-Eri, who is dyslexic to the point of almost being illiterate. And what Tengo and his editor thought was just a strange sci-fi story about “little people” and a lonely girl on a commune turns out to be not so much fiction as actuality.

Their storyline is paralleled by that of Aomame, a fitness instructor and part-time assassin. She is the first to recognize that something has changed with the world in which she lives. She, in fact, coins the term “1Q84,” which is her substitute for the year in which she and Tengo are actually living, 1984. The changes in her world are subtle at first, but soon become evident based on one particular item: there are now two moons in the sky. It is also clear that Aomame and Tengo’s lives are in some way intertwined and that their paths will cross in some way down the line.

This is the setup of the book. But of course it wouldn’t be a Murakami novel without all sorts of bizarre shit going on. Not that what I’ve described so far is in any way normal. Though it’s almost impossible to describe exactly what the hell went on in this book without going into a serious recounting of each and every plot point. There’s also the fact the thing is almost 1000 pages long. So instead of trying to explain the book, I’ll just give my stupid opinion.

This wasn’t my favorite Murakami book. I feel like rather than going deep, he went a little too wide. There are the aforementioned subtle changes to Aomame and Tengo’s world, but those changes, with the exception of the double-moon, are really small and few and honestly make very little impact or give the narrative that awesome edge that they could have. I’m not positive why this bothered me, but he brought it up in the beginning of the narrative and then just kind of let it drop and never revisited it. It made the end of the book, where our heroes (for lack of a better word) are trying with all their might to get back to the world they know not as impactful. I mean, if there is really so little difference between this new world and the old world, the task just doesn’t seem that pressing. And while Murakami does do an admirable job fleshing out the character’s motivations and honestly goes deeper on their backstories than we usually see with his characters, his core male character, who just loves to eat sandwiches, drink beer from the can and basically just be a pawn for everyone around him is getting a little bit tired. How about an aggressive guy? How about a guy who doesn’t just kind of shrug when the girlfriend whom he cares for a lot (loving would be too much of a commitment/emotion for one of his characters) stops coming to his place because her husband says so. No fighting for her? How about a guy who doesn’t just shrug and go along with it when a sexy nurse wants to bang him? He only seems to get erect because his body just kind of goes there. How about a guy who, rather than just kind robotically doing whatever everyone else tells him to do, actually displays some free will, and even anger for people who do him wrong? For a change.

That all said, I certainly didn’t hate the book. I just didn’t love it as much as I wish I had. Despite its length, it just felt incomplete somehow. Like Murakami started plot lines and ideas and didn’t follow through. And conjured others that made not a ton of sense in the universe that he created. And established even more mystical things and situations just to kind of create spookiness or weirdness that either lived without explanation or kind of just was because Murakami said it was. I realize, thinking back over his other books I’ve read, that this is his thing — mystery without explanation — but for some reason this one felt more tenuous than his past stuff. Almost as if he felt the need to write in this manner in order to fulfill peoples’ expectations that he would. So it felt a bit forced at times rather than just the natural spawn of his bizarro imagination.

So, I’ll wrap this thing up before it gets as long as the book itself. I do love Murakami. I liked this novel, but wasn’t over the moon and wanting to tell Ms. Hipster and anybody else I came in contact with about it. I expected more, and still think that if he had a chance to redo it with some of my notes, he could have made an astronomically awesome novel for the ages. Self-important douchebag out!