How bad is 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami? (part 6)

I’ll just leave this here (Murakami almost does it, God love him):



How bad is 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami? (part 5)

Ok… this is getting a bit old, but…

IMG_7896…so the scene is redolent of the biblical flood. So instead of building up that sense of a drowned world, this author prefers to riff on what it must have been like to be in the Ark, with all those animals. Then we’re onto Sonny & Cher, of course… which will catch the reader a little off balance: ‘I thought we were establishing atmosphere or something?’

To be fair – maybe all of this is an effort by Murakami to show how the protagonist as the thought process of someone who isn’t human. At which he does succeed. But why do this? Here we have a guy in his thirties in bed with a stunningly beautiful but exceedingly child-like seventeen-year old woman/girl/child, which amounts, in Murakami’s fictional world, as a pivotal moment in the narrative, and he’s good enough to have a “strange feeling” – but these feelings also peters out – again into non-human like ramblings, which is impossible for the reader to empathise with: “Yeah, I know how you’re feeling”?

Not in a Murakami novel.

Mr A

How bad is 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami? (part 4)

image1-2 copyOther than induce a headache, what is the intention of Murakami in this piece? The metaphors, crass in each instance, clash one against each other, producing an awful din: but where is the reader by the end of it?

We’re given caves, then the sighs of disembowelled animals, some primeval moss on a far northern island, then the endless span of accumulated time, a few ghosts who are tied in place by an ancient curse, some armoured men, half a dozen women who are “swathed” not in swathes, as one might suppose, but in “chic black dresses”, and then ending up with vampire finches craving light, but only rounding off with kings and queens whose tired bodies are deposited on thrones in corners. And all this in one to two hundred words.

It’s as though Murakami has got the big guns out, but merely to shoot the reader in the face.

Mr A

How bad is 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami? (part 3)

OK, so this is the introduction of a new character – at the beginning of the second novel.

IMG_7892This guy is:

  1. “probably in his mid-forties”
  2. “…could not be sure of his age”,
  3. “the clues necessary for guessing his age were difficult to find”
  4. “He could have been older than that.”
  5. “or he could have been younger”
  6. “anywhere between, say, thirty-two and fifty-six”

…now, could this have been done more adeptly? Yes. To signal the man had a somewhat  indeterminate age and that the central character was bothered by this? Yes. I have rarely seen such a bloody mess of prose at so many junctures. Whenever Murakami shifts gear there is the most god-awful grinding of gears – one starts to miss the bland prose of characters doing little with little thought or of characters working through philosophical problems that might well occupy comic book characters or maybe a particularly dense Homo Erectus.

The following metaphor – man’s head shape = heliport from a Vietnam film – is not a metaphor that can help the reader to visualise anything, nor one that can make them feel anything other than a mild kind of confusion: but does it add to the kind of vague feeling Murakami is trying to engender in his novel? If it does, what is that feeling meant to be?

We’re then told that “ninety-eight people out of a hundred would probably be reminded by it of public hair.” But that “Tengo had no idea what the other two would think.” So instead of getting a picture of this unfortunate character’s hair – which turns out to have no significance whatsoever – the reader is left wondering after these two hypothetical people: Murakami keeps asking the reader pointless questions.

Here’s the rest of the tedious and pointless description, replete with the painfully dull thought process of a character with whom we are doomed to spend half the novel:


How bad is 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami? (part 2)

IMG_7890Is it really hard to explain why this is bad? Hmmmm…

What we are meant to be getting here is the point of view of one the novel’s two main characters – from whose point of view half the novel/trilogy is written. But Murakami can’t decide how he wants to do this – does he want to give the reader direct access to the though processes of the character: ”In kicking the balls, the most important thing is never to hesitate” is clearly the thought of the character. As are the insistence on hesitation being fatal, the rather odd analogy with Hitler invading France, and the need for the “utmost ferocity”. But then the narrator tells us these reflections amounted to her “unshakable belief”. Any reasonably good author of prose could have communicated this unshakeable-ness in any number of ways. But the constant movement between telling us his character’s beliefs and showing them – in a kind of free-indirect style –  is unnecessary, only serves to jar the prose, disorientate the reader, and generally make the experience of reading Murakami’s prose unpleasant.

It might seem that my criticism is just a little fussy. Who cares if the author moves between a free-indirect style of showing us the character’s thoughts, adopting them as though they were the narrator’s, and then bluntly stating them, as though they weren’t at all obvious?

Well, if people are intent on saying that Murakami is good, as there is a very good case to be made of the opposite, I feel that case should be made: his prose is bad for this reason.

What follows – where the central character and whoever she has a conversation with on the matter cannot understand the notion of an analogy – the painfully stupid breaking down of the comparison of being kicked in the scrotum and the end of the world comes across as two computers discussing a metaphor – not two real people. Murakami’s characters are like this – that is his style – but surely this is no more than writing characters badly so that they are unbelievable – with almost zero psychological verisimilitude.

IMG_7891In this excerpt Murakami goes out on a limb to explain nothing, tell us nothing about the central character, and tell us nothing about the world; he also undermines any sense of a plausible fictional universe – this is a world populated by characters with the common sense of 1980s computers and with an almost barren mental life.

It’s always interesting when Murakami resorts to figurative language throughout the novel – you always know you’re about to wince in pain. His metaphors serve no purpose, just as this analogy serves no purpose – and the only people not to realise this are Murakami, his protagonist, and the random man with whom she has an utterly hollow and unbelievable conversation.

A tin ear for reality is an awful thing in a novelist.

Mr A

How bad is 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami?

1q84bThe short answer: very bad. The long answer is needed though, because everyone loves it (at least everyone is buying it) and yet everyone is wrong: everyone needs to be disabused of their delusions: what everyone likes is not something worthy of liking. Everyone needs telling!

 The new Charles Dickens! An ambitious work? A master of the novel? Have any of these critics read another novel?

“At midnight in London, and the same time next week in America, bookshops will open their doors to sell Haruki Murakami’s latest novel to eager fans. This is not Harry Potter, it’s a 1,600-page translation from Japanese. So why the excitement?

“When Haruki Murakami’s new book, 1Q84, was released in Japanese two years ago, most of the print-run sold out in just one day – the country’s largest bookshop, Kinokuniya, sold more than one per minute. A million copies went in the first month.

“In France, publishers printed 70,000 copies in August but had to reprint within a week. The book is already on the top 20 list of online booksellers – hence the plans for midnight openings in the UK and across the US from New York to Seattle.”

So, let’s have a closer look:

IMG_7889So what’s bad about this? Well, for starters Murakami can’t seem to do description – it’s invariably clunky, bolted on and frankly childish: his character isn’t meant to have a childish point of view. What did “one glance” tell Aomame? That he was a “professional body guard”. We’re not told why. But we are reassured: “which was in fact his area of expertise”, and just for that extra bit of flavour, we are told in the remainder of this painful sentence: “though at times he also served as a driver”. Each of these little nuggets is, to my mind, a gross misstep, missteps that are the bread and butter of a Murakami paragraph. These are not isolated lapses of concentration: Murakami’s style, in that there is a kind of consistency in his prose, consists of such clunky, unnecessary blobs of prose, which I can’t but believe try the patience of his reader at every turn.

A more accomplished prose stylist would have entwined the descriptive details into the narrative, or at least would have adhered to what the character’s point of view would normally have entitled them to: a person doesn’t launch into a painful description of people with whom they are familiar each time they meet them, so we don’t expect realistic characters to think this way either.

So “once glance” shouldn’t be telling Aomame anything here, other than this is someone she is familiar with, unless she is given cause to reassess his person’s appearance, or there’s something unusual about him now, or her feelings for him, or she remembers first meeting him, or she can’t believe how she’s gotten used to him, or anything like that.

And how does “one glance” tell anyone that someone else is a “professional body guard”? Especially when you already know that they are? If you do then this magical glance would be superfluous. But that’s just it, so many of the character’s observations are superfluous – only there for exposition – they don’t fit in with the warp and weft of how a character thinks in prose – insofar as it reflects our understanding of the world, of how we ourselves and others function.

And what purpose does “though at times he also served as a driver” serve? Is it a little seed dropped surreptitiously into the novel which in time will ripen to a terrible realisation? No. its irrelevance is its only characteristic. Yes, this “professional body guard” drives a car from time to time as part of his job!

The point is you could go through every page of Murakami’s prose and cross out dross like this. And what would you have left? A better novel perhaps. But why, when I can read beautiful turned out prose in a thousand books on a thousand shelves, is this crap getting published, pushed and lauded?

After 850 pages I didn’t care a jot for any of Murakami’s characters, because time and again, when he should be doing his job as a novelist, he’s fooling about with pointless details, each of which make one wonder at the psychological reality of those characters he’s creating rather than drawing us in to their reality. It’s not empathy that’s generated, but a kind of sloppy incredulity that slowly bludgeons the reader to death.

Mr A

Final Solution by David Cesarani thinking of a book being useful or not useful, as opposed to being simply good or not good, a work such as David Cesarani’s “Final Solution”, puts the matter very well in perspective. For here, and of this I can have no doubt, is a book that is useful.

  1. Scares you to your very core in a very necessary way – cutting at your ability to begin to imagine the plight of another human being – multiplied by six-million. (Cesarani’s repeated use of the word “murder” ad nauseam in parts of the book grates for a terrible reason)
  2. A damning indictment of humanity, one which acts as such a dire warning.
  3. Puts the lie to all varieties of holocaust denial – especially the invidious vague ones.
  4. Helps a modern reader understand how such a thing did happen, could happen, might yet happen again.
  5. If leaning from history is possible, we will learn something from this great work of research.
  6. Exposes the mechanics, the workings, of perhaps the greatest of human catastrophes.
  7. Challenges many assumptions of the holocaust: e.g. that it can only be explained by the utterly malign intentions of the Nazi administration.
  8. Constantly and stubbornly refuses to tell a story – the narrative thread isn’t elusive, it doesn’t exist. It happened. It cannot be a story. (this is important – all historical narratives are as misleading as they are useful – can fiction learn from this?)
  9. Shows how chaos in government – the ineptitude of our leaders – is a grave danger that cannot be ignored.
  10. Delineates all the roles, major and minor, active and passive, in the administration and execution of the holocaust.
  11. Makes you understand the sheer inhuman scale of a very human tragedy.
  12. Makes you understand the humanity at the heart of it: we are in this up to our necks. (you cannot but feel culpable and complicit)
  13. Makes you understand that this was not a German disease: this was primarily a European disease, though most virulent in the East.
  14. Shows the very shaky foundations of a number of modern European states.
  15. Asks impossible questions: what would Europe be like today with the ancestors of these six-million Jews?
  16. Makes the very firm seeming ground beneath our feet seem anything but.
  17. The future, we begin to realize, is just as blood stained and horrible as the past.

(There’s a lot of “makes you” in this list – which makes you think)

So, considering this summary of what makes a particular book “useful”, how can a work of fiction be considered useful?

Can fiction compete?

Mr A

“The late historian’s bald, factual account of the Holocaust is both moving and overwhelming/”
“Setting out his stall in the introduction, Cesarani argues that public knowledge of the Holocaust has become stuck in ritual formulas and increasingly divorced from current scholarship.”
““Final Solution” is not an account that will find favor in the new Eastern Europe. Dividing many of his chapters into one slow year at a time, Cesarani achieves a sense of profound claustrophobia by tracing the extreme difficulty of hiding without being caught, blackmailed, denounced and handed over to the Germans in most of occupied Eastern Europe. In Poland, he writes, “village elders, mayors, police officials, firemen, forest rangers and upstanding citizens all took part in Jew-hunts and sought to profit from the mythical wealth of the Jews.” So too did sections of the resistance and partisan movements in Poland and Ukraine.”
“Cesarani challenges the widely held view that the extermination of the Jews was ever Hitler’s first priority. Of course, his “Jew hatred” was never in question. But his plan for a Europe rid entirely of Jews was always secondary to military aims, and had to be adapted to strategic realities.”