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Something Like a Review – 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

It took me a while to really know what I thought about this book and about Murakami’s style. At first, I was listening to Aomame’s story begin in the cab on the backed up expressway and I was wondering why this had been so eagerly anticipated. It didn’t seem like it was going to be anything extraordinary and I wondered if I was embarking on something that was going to be a waste of time.

I was, of course, wrong.

One of the things I appreciated most about this novel was the subtle way that reality shifts and the way the reader is eased into the unreality that seems to seep out of “Air Chrysalis,” the novel the main characters Tengo and Fuka-Eri are focused on, and the way other characters, like Aomame, are drawn into it.

This is a deeply complex story and there were times when I thought I knew what was coming, only to be thwarted. There were times I thought something was too easy to predict, only to be wrong. In short, it kept me off balance, much like it did with the characters in the story and even the parts where I got frustrated thinking the story had meandered off course weren’t the diversions I assumed they were originally. The manipulation of reality was deft yet significant enough that I used this book as a part of a paper for philosophy on constitutes reality and how “stable” it really is.

On beloved pain of this story was Murakami’s use of repetition to disorient, disconcert and create the sense of deja-vu feeling that the characters felt. Not only was it effective in creating this head-spinning unreal yet real reality of 1Q84, it also got irritating at times. Especially towards the end, the cyclical conversations, the repetitions, rehashings and reaffirmations of things already laboriously discussed tap danced on my nerves. I understand the intent, but for me, it didn’t work except to frustrate me. I wanted either more depth, more revelations or for them to move the hell on and get a new topic of conversation. The tension and expectation for the climax was there, and I think it would have been much more effective to tighten up the conversations between Aomame and Tamaru rather than revisiting something they’ve already discussed. At length.

Overall, I enjoyed this work and am likely to pick up other works by Murakami. In addition to the unique story line, I think reading the work of an author from a country with which I am not familiar was an enriching experience that provides a new perspective on culture and behavior. The only thing I regret is not being able to read it in the original Japanese. While I’m sure the translation is excellent, since both translators worked closely together and with the author, there’s always something that slips through the grasp of translation that’s not perceptible unless the reader can understand both.

Medium: audiobook from Audible.com **

Other: Multiple formats available from Amazon.com

Overall rating:4 stars

Potential re-read?: Possibly. There are interesting twists on the fragility of reality that, when combined with my philosophy class, made me stop and consider what I “knew” to be real.

Dead tree worthy?: Yes, if only to avoid the sound of that nasally whisper. I’d recommend a digital version at least.

** As a caveat for those purchasing the audiobook: if you are easily irritated by odd/unusual voices, do NOT buy the audiobook. The voice actor who reads the chapters written from Ushikawa’s perspective has an absolutely grating way of whispering that drove me up the wall. His normal reading voice was fine, but whenever he was reading Ushikawa’s internal monologue or thoughts, he used this harsh, whispery, nasally voice that made me want to stop listening. It felt like ants had crawled into my ears and were burrowing their way through my eyes. With fifteen hours of recording remaining, I was seriously considering how I could get my hands on a copy of the book to finish reading it just so I wouldn’t have to listen to him any more. It might not have been so bad if it were just occasional, but there’s a chapter where Ushikawa spent a great deal of time alone with his thoughts and almost the entire section is read in that voice. It made me hostile to listen.

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