Aomame in Wonderland
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Twin-track plotlines, alternative realities, sundered sweethearts and the loneliness of those who find themselves unable to fit in: Murakami has used all of these devices and themes before, though 1Q84 is probably his most detailed exegesis yet. It's clear from the start that he intends this to be "bigger" than his earlier work. The characters' backgrounds, clothes, diet, cultural and sexual appetites are dwelt upon in some detail, and then there are creaky efforts to incorporate facets of contemporary Japanese history. Tengo's father, for example, flees to Tokyo from Manchuria after the Soviet invasion in 1945, and there are references to the student movement to protest against a US-Japan security treaty in the Seventies. All of this, combined with repetition and overwriting, means that the book is much larger though flabbier is a more apt word than it ought to be.
Though there's an engaging flow to most of 1Q84, with a patterned criss-crossing of action and reaction, there are also several examples of clich้s and lazy writing. For example, on just a single page chosen at random, one finds Aomame musing that "what she needed... was to be held by someone, anyone". A little later: "The gun had almost become a part of her body." More troublingly, did we really need to be plunged into so much detail in a scene of intercourse with a pre-pubescent? (Bad Sex Award alert.)
The resonances with Orwell's dystopia, too, seem alternately forced and underdeveloped. The virus-like Little People a counterpoint to Big Brother, a malevolent version of the shoemaker's elves sometimes come across as more risible than menacing, especially when emerging from the mouth of a dead goat, uttering clunky dialogue.
It turns out that at the heart of this bloated fantasy is a tender love story: "Tengo could hardly believe it that in this frantic, labyrinth-like world, two people's hearts a boy's and a girl's could be connected, unchanged, even though they hadn't seen each other for twenty years." This, come to think of it, is an aspect that should appeal to those yearning for the Murakami of Norwegian Wood.