1Q84 is undoubtedly the biggest literary let-down I have ever come across. The synopsis and plot outline sound fascinating, the reviews have been glowing - am I (trying to) read a different 1Q84 than everyone else?
Apparently not, judging by the far-too-few reviews that sum up my feelings towards this empty, boring, nothing of a book. One of my favourites was this, from theatlantic.com: "It's hard to believe that some of the critics praising 1Q84 didn't really feel, at times, like throwing the book in the air and walking away. Trying to say anything definite about it is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. (Even the title's allusion to Orwell seems vague. It's an elaborate puzzle... which, when assembled, adds up to a picture of a perfect blank. For me, reading it was the literary equivalent of biting into a large, pumped-up soufflé. After finishing five pounds of book, I was still hungry — for a novel."
The only difference between this critic's view of the book and mine is that I remain unable to finish the damn thing.
These are a few of the more superficial problems I had with 1Q84:
Aomame comes across as a flat, two-dimensional character whose main purpose is to serve as an older man's fantasy. As the writer happens to fit this demographic, it is more than a little creepy. Within a few pages of meeting her, she experiences flashbacks of a detailed lesbian encounter she experienced with a friend, though she is not, in fact lesbian, bi-sexual, in the slightest bit attracted to woman. This would not be an issue if it appeared to serve any purpose towards her character development - but it doesn't. Instead, it begins to follow the pornographic trend of girl-on-girl sex for the sole purpose of pleasing men. Literally, Aomame and the other woman have sex for NO other reason then to attract the men they have picked up. This male"fantasy" further continues as it is blatantly told to the reader that she is attracted to older men with receding hairlines, and proceeds to detail each of these sexual encounters. There's nothing wrong with any of the aforementioned in general, and it would not be a problem if it served a purpose to the story but as far as I'm aware so far it really doesn't. The story would in no way be impacted if any of these scenes were to be removed.
I rarely read books from a feminist standpoint, and I wouldn't consider myself as a textbook feminist (in the clichéd "capital F" sense), more as someone who hates unfairness in any form. If it's in the best interest of the book in question, I am perfectly ok with reading about bigoted characters, or even books written by writers with an obvious agenda that clashes with my own beliefs, if the book is good enough, and provokes thought. 1Q84 is not one of these books. The blatant misogyny does not serve a purpose and therefore I must assume that it was not considered to be an issue at all for the purposes of the book. I honestly felt that all the female characters in this were written as male fantasy - not just Aomame, but every single woman. There is the "older married girlfriend" who is shown as no more than a sexual object for Tengo; there is the police woman who befriends Aomame and constantly wants sex with her though she is "straight" (and appears to serve no other purpose in the book); and even with Fuka-Eri more attention was spent on the shape of her breasts than on her merits as a person.
Tengo is likeable, but all his segments of the story have so far been the most repetitive in the book, which is a constant source of frustration. Also - and likely because of this - he doesn't really do much. He has a lot of sex with his older, married girlfriend (and we know that she is older and married because that statement appears to have taken the place of her name, appearing at least 5 times in every chapter about Tengo). I will also admit that I grew very, very weary of every conversation she had with Tengo being punctuated by lines such as "she said to him, massaging his scrotum in her hand." Ad with Aomame's segments, the sex all truly appears to serve no purpose, and is crudely written at that, meaning it all comes across as both needlessly pornographic, and incredibly boring, two things good writing - and good sex - should never be. When Tengo is not having dull sexual encounters with his older married girlfriend, he mostly wanders around not doing anything. This is described in detail, which I will admit is a fairly impressive feat considering he really isn't doing anything.
Moments of this novel appear to hold onto a central plot, but it is so bogged down with Twilightesque mundane details along the lines of "Tengo got up, showered and dressed. Then he ate breakfast and wandered around the room for a while. After breakfast, he made a phone call, wrote some of his book, made some rice and salad, and waited for his older married girlfriend to call. She didn't call, so he went for a walk outside. While he was resting after his walk outside, Tengo read a book about the indigenous people of some country out loud and in minute and soporous detail so that the reader of THIS book can also experience the pedantic boredom of the book he was reading. After he had finished reading, he made dinner and went to bed. He couldn't sleep, so he got up and wrote some more of his book, though he found writing at night to be difficult and not as good as writing in the day, even though in the day his older married girlfriend was sometimes a distraction and got jealous at anything that took attention away from her even though she was older and married and the married aspect of her life should probably have been enough of a distraction to not be sleeping with someone else. But that was ok because he liked sex with his older married girlfriend very much. As he wrote his book he thought about..." etc etc that it is near impossible to discern what is actually worth reading, rather than skimming over. I'm pretty sure that if all the moments of needless, boring repetition were removed, the novel would come well under the 500 page mark.
I'm not sure if it is to do with the culture difference (I have practically no knowledge of Japanese culture), but the characters reactions to everything were utterly implausible to me. Tengo and his editor are totally panicked about the idea of anyone finding out they re-wrote Air Chrysalis (the idea of co-writing or "editing" is completely out of the question) but Aomame isn't even bothered by the fact that she is in a world that is not her own. She has essentially fallen into a parallel universe and her reaction to that is... actually, I'm not even sure if she reacted at all to this knowledge. She also freaks out when she holds a gun, but has no apparent qualms about killing a man with a needle. There are many, many other reactions that bothered me but I can't think of them clearly enough to write about them - I think my mind has an innate defence against boredom that means I forget anything that has bored me to this degree.
The very worst part about this vapid 1000+ page "novel", however, is that people who have finished the book tell me that nothing else happens!!!!! I can't handle it, I really can't. Perhaps if I'd come into this with lower expectations, I may have been less disappointed. It would have still been a terrible book, but I would feel less betrayed by this fact.