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The International Writers Magazine:Review

IQ84 by Haruki Murakami
Books 1. 2. & 3.
Publisher - Harvill Secker
ISBN -  9781846554070

Sam North
It is always a pleasure to read a new Murakami novel and for once the hype over this new one is almost justified.  Having recently seen Norwegian Wood (the movie) I was reminded of the pleasure of reading his work and how he weaves so many simple inconsequential things into a complex and often fraught and complex read. 

His writing is spare and his characters are almost never heroic and indeed often tortured by self-doubt, but somehow they get under your skin and his two leads in this tale are no different.

Aomame (Green Peas) is a fitness instructor and part-time assassin.  It was a natural progression for her in a world where men behave badly to women.  She teaches women self-defence and in private dispatches abusers to an early grave. Tengo wants to be a writer but is being strung along by an unscrupulous publisher and gets by teaching Math at a Crammer. By chance Tengo and Aomame, although complete strangers in Tokyo as adults, were once connected when they were ten years old by one simple moment when he held her hand at school.  It has affected both of them for the next twenty years.  Back then Aomame was living with Witness parents and living a strict religious life, Tengo himself was forced to go house to house with his subscription collecting father every Sunday, always missing the pleasures of childhood.

Into Tengo’s life comes a manuscript he is to judge for a literary competition called Air Chrysalis.  It is raw, needs a lot of work, but has captivated his heart.  Better yet it is written by a 17-year-old girl Fuka-Eri who is beautiful.  His publisher can see it’s potential too, but in a break from ethical behaviour asks that Tengo completely rewrite it in secret and then they will submit it to the judges as written by the girl.  He is sure it will win a big prize and they will split the money three ways.  Fuka-Eri doesn’t seem to care about ethics at all and worse – seems to be dyslexic and it is impossible to imagine that she wrote this story herself, but she claims she did and what is more, it is all true.  It sets in motion a whole chain of events and they don’t know it but it will connect Tengo to Aomame in the strangest way.

Erotic, obsessed with pubic hair and hygene, filled with all those special Murakami moments when all the characters seem to do is chop some onions or boil rice and think about things such as Anomame's sparse pubic hair and her small breasts (a monumental obsession actually), you savour every minute and watch this catastrophe slowly unfold.  Men die, girls flee religious cults, Aomame embarks on a new friendship with a reckless female cop who seeks out anonymous sexual thrills – yet she makes no move to find Tengo (even knowing later that she could easily find him via the publishers of Air Chrysalis). She prefers to always wait for that special moment when she will run into Tengo by chance.

In the beginning of this tale Aomame gets out of taxi on a log jammed elevated highway. She is on her way to an assassination.  The taxi driver warns her ‘Please remember: things are not what they seem’.  She puzzles on this as she climbs down to the road below, why would the taxi driver say this?

Unwittingly in that brief moment she changed the world forever and suddenly there are two moons in the sky and no one seems to notice but Aomame and then later Tengo.  This is IQ84. Strange, quirky and perhaps best thing Murakami has written since ‘Hardboiled Wonderland at the End of the World’ where once Inklings lurked in the dark but now Little People come out at night to weave their spells.

Having now completed Book Three where Murakami spins out the issue of whether Tengo and Aomame will ever get together for at least 900 pages - your patience may expire before you get to the end. You may well wonder what is so fascinating about Air Chrysalis that makes it a best seller (once we discover the plot) and if it was this easy to get a best seller we should all be writing such rather odd stuff.

Book Three belongs to a third character - Ushikawa (introduced in Books One and Two) - an ugly large mis-shapen headed ex-lawyer hired by the relgious cult to find Aomame and by default Tengo. Not exactly the most obvious person to hire seeing as he stands out so much, but he is relentlessly thorough and he stakes out Tengo believing this will lead him to his quarry. As it happens he is the most interesting person in the three books - but then again - he lacks what you might call charm.

There is the business of Tengo's father lying in a coma in Cat Town by the sea and yet not - Cat Town is a place where you wouldn't want to be found after dark and may never return.

Is this the best book Murakami has written? No. Does it compare to Orwell's 1984? No. There seems to be no connection at all except the date, but it is worth noting that it is much easier to write a novel in the recent past than current present. The absence of mobile phones and smart tech neatly slows all down and fixes people into place. IQ84 however is absorbing and yet it is a challenge. If you are looking for thrills or action you won't find much here, but if you are looking for an insight in the rather quirky sexual obessions of the Japanese and are worried about your pubic hair... IQ84 is for you. Read it as an inconsequential guilty pleasure. It has all the importance of the bubbles in Aero chocolate but somehow also secretly enjoyable.

© Sam North  November 10th 2011
author of Mean Tide

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