IQ84 by Haruki Murakami

(9.0/10) At times shocking, at others breathlessly poignant.

I was handed the single volume binding of this trilogy by a friend and delved into it with curiosity as I had never read anything from Haruki Murakami. The ability of the author is plain to see; even if he indulges in a bit of narcissistic lecturing on what it takes to be an author, I feel he's earned the right to comment given his technical skills at authorship. There is somewhat of an authorial soliloquy around page 178 where he has Tengo utter phrases like: "The role of a story was, in the broadest terms, to transpose a single problem into another form."

The story is curious, idiosyncratic, dystopian, fantastical, overtly sexualised - all this and more over the course of some 900 pages. It was a book that commanded my time in a comfy chair over a few hours. It was a book that grabbed attention, slowly built characters and linked them together through coincidence and Fate yet... by the final few pages I put it down disappointed at the abruptness, the multitude of loose ends, the explanations that failed to come. Murakami hinted this would happen with his tiny excerpts from Air Chrysalis which also just... stops. Despite trying to encourage the reader to focus on the unfired gun of Chekhov's insistence, I found I sidestepped such a clumsy ploy, sat on top of the slide in the playground, stared at two moons and couldn't help thinking every time I put the book down..."Isn't this just 'The Borrowers' evil cousins at work?"

Of course, the nature of a fantastical dystopian novel is to perplex, confuse and beguile. We're not really meant to be led, rather encouraged to empathise, to seek our own 'voices' in the Little People; to try and relate to the introverted, self-cantered characters that litter the text. The only thing that separates them in their little bubbles is the occasional dysfunctional motive when they try to engage in emotion.

For me, a stand out novel is littered with sentences you want to quote to people; of crafted words that resonate with personal beliefs, fears, thoughts. IQ84 is such a novel. Here are some examples that stood out for me, starting with a sense the poesy inside Murakami's prose:

"Hundreds of butterflies flitted in and out of sight like short-lived punctuation marks in a stream of consciousness without beginning or end."

His sense of cynical humour:

"Constipation was one of the things she hated most in the world, on par with despicable men who commit domestic violence and narrow-minded religious fundamentalists."

We see more philosophical views:

"'Without a doubt you have done the right thing. But your act must not go uncompensated. Do you understand why?'
'No, not really,' Aomame replied honestly.
'Because you are neither an angel nor a god'"

Murakami voices his distaste with extremely dogmatic views:
"'Any religion that would prohibit life-saving surgery simply because it goes against the literal word of the Bible can be nothing more than a cult. This is an abuse of dogma that crosses the line.'" or "'there is always just a thin line separating deep faith from intolerance.' Ushikawa said."

And lastly a poignant statement that will resonate with many: "His daughters might forget all about him, but that blood would not lose its way. Blood had a frightening long memory."

Of course, there are hundreds more; there are long paragraphs where characters reflect on matters that are personal to them. Whether we agree with those or not is not the point; it is the understanding that Murakami draws us to opine in the silence of watching his words on a page and makes us pause from his narrative for some time before moving on.

I don't intend to speak of what the novel is about because, for me, the book has not prompted me to review it in that way. Rather, the stories of Aomame and Tengo set against the fantastical of the world of IQ84 and those who revolve around them are expertly drawn, always interesting, faintly plausible.

At times the book is shocking in its sexual brutality and violence given life in Aomame, at others breathlessly poignant in Tengo's elegance; yet, for all that this is a novel that left me slightly dis-satisfied. It satiated my craving as I flicked through the pages, left me not particularly wanting more as Aomame and Tengo climbed back up the ladder to the Expressway. I would encourage people to read it, which might be slightly odd as I believe you will put it aside with a sense of losing a moon, but there is no denying the beauty of the prose, the deft handling of the characters, the futility of their motives.

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