A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece on how every artist puts out work that isn’t “good-or-better” at some point during their life. Originally I was going to do a list of people who bucked the trend. Haruki Murakami was one of them. Alas no longer.

At this moment I can empathise with The AV Club when they published this,16591/ on Harvey Pekar, explaining why they couldn’t do an official review of Harvey Pekar’s The Quitter. They loved Pekar and really, really didn’t want to put the knife in, but this work wasn’t up to scratch.

Actually alright - just not his best

(As an aside I also love Pekar and understand their position. He ‘s one of the finest-writers-to-have-ever-lived but definitely a cult proposition and wasn’t a rich man. To give him a kicking just wouldn’t have been right. Fortunately he got back on track after a couple of years of post-main-job-retirement mediocrity.)

So here I am, similarly, going to say Murakami’s  latest, IQ84, just isn’t up to scratch. I wish it was. And I’m going to say yes, I did enjoy it, and yes I did read all 1000+ pages of it, so it can’t be all that bad, right? well…

To start again, let me mention the AV Club again , and also the word “again” again. I was 3/4 of the way through IQ84 when I read this article,64876/ . And I found myself agreeing with it a lot – at one point I considered doing a “review” of the review but decided that would be too “meta” and, well, wanky even for me.

What I will say, after reading a few other reviews of IQ84 and interviews with Murakami, I was so pleased to see that one finally pointed out the clunkiness and, to be honest, downright shoddiness of lines such as “when it comes to being gay, I’m in the big leagues.”  What the AV Club’s article fails to point out that the blame may not lie in Murakami himself but in a time-pressured translator – tIQ84 was translated by two people in order to cut down the time taken in translation.

The Av Club does point out nicely that a lot of what Murakami does in this book he’s done before and better. You can see elements of The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka On The Shore in here, for sure. In fact it got to the point where I began to think of it as Murakami by numbers. Choose 4 or 5 elements – little people, an assassin, domestic violence and cults- and write a Murakami novel around it. The other elements fill themselves in: a couple kept apart, a everyman writer-protagonist, lots of meals, a sense of inevitability, half explained supernatural events, some classical music and some pop music. Yup, they’re all here.

Although Janacek’s Sinfonietta is pretty awesome.

IQ84 compelling enough but there is soooo much repetition. Every couple of pages someone makes a “simple meal” . Events and phrases are repeated ad adsurdum. I assume this is a stylistic choice but does not make for an interesting read over hundreds of pages. Then there’s the issue of the length. I  genuinely believe that Murakami let this book take him where it will take him. Unfortunately this means there’s half as many ideas as in other books he’s written and twice as many loose ends picked up and never explained. He’s done this before, notably in his masterpiece The Wind Up Bird Chronicles. But the important difference there was it felt as if everything was intentionally up in the air, mysterious and confusing. For all the supernatural thingys in IQ84, there is no real sense of mystery in IQ84 here, just another world with different rules, as mundane as our own.

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle: Better

From an early interview about the book it just feels like there are so many missed opportunites. Murakami spoke of writing about Manichea, Japanese occupied China circa 1930s, an interesting subject but one that is skimmed over here. He writes about cults but from such a distance as to shed no light on the subject. He said he was going to be writing about little people. I had visions of an extended  version of his “The Elephant Vanishes” – one of the finest short stories ever written (IMHO) – but nothing of the sort.

But as I said before I read, almost devoured this book. Why? Well, I think no matter what he’s writing about Murakami is readable, very readable. I just miss the early days when he was special too.


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