Review: IQ84 by Haruki Murakami

This West-obsessed, Japanese master's yarn exhausts itself half-way through its 900-plus pages.

Photograph: Lindsay M Taylor

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

There's no time for suspension of disbelief: Less than ten pages into Haruki Murakami's enormous 1Q84, which was published in three volumes in his home country of Japan, a cab driver advises the novel's protagonist Aomame, "Don't let appearances fool you. There's always only one reality." And with that, the author of world-bending volumes including The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle guides Aomame down an emergency exit astride a gridlocked freeway, a rabbit hole into which readers are tossed along with her, where they will encounter many of his usual tropes: a decent citizen in over his/her head; a malevolent force prone to disturbing behavior; creepy, claustrophobic interiors; blurry lines between relative realities.

Aomame is a self-defense instructor turned assassin who agrees to one final, important job, and though the story ultimately belongs to her, the action also involves another protagonist: A writer named Tengo Kawana has just begun rewriting an imperfect novel by a beautiful, young woman nicknamed Fuka-Eri for a publisher who smells opportunity. As Aomame and Tengo move along parallel paths, their fates become entwined, and neither an armed cult nor baffling, otherworldly entities known as the Little People can stop their progress toward one another.

1Q84 is a yarn that, if not exactly enveloping, will keep readers under its spell for most of its 900-plus pages. Though the book has its dynamic and impressive moments, the propulsive lunacy of its most compelling events dissipates midway; the last half of the novel involves some contemplation about the nature of evil with a minor character and a lot of waiting around. Murakami then disposes of the only real threat facing Aomame and Tengo without much of a fight. While every trip in which the author plays the White Rabbit is fun, 1Q84 lacks the emotional and historical gravity that marks his best work, and can't quite manage to justify its girth.

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By Haruki Murakami. Knopf, $30.