Lengthy books are not my favorite. There are exceptions, of course—among them literary classics the significance of which is undeniable—but, on the whole, I find lengthy books awkward, mainly by reason of their weight but also because only few authors are capable of sustaining either a story or a good style for more than four hundred pages.
The new novel by Haruki Murakami has confirmed this view. The book comes in three parts and has more than nine hundred pages. It was published in three volumes in Japan where it first appeared in 2009-2010. I was pretty happy with the first volume, but bored by the time I was halfway through with the second, and I found the third part extremely repetitive and basically obsolete. That is more generally the problem with writing or producing sequels, like in the movie business, and IQ84 seems to have been written with film rights and big cash in its author’s mind.
With the exception of a few chapters at the beginning and in the middle, the novel displays a poor writing style. I do not always mind books written with not much ado and comprising a lot of dialogue, yet the language of this one (at least in English translation) is too flat. The story, on the other hand, is mostly good, albeit bizarre, and basically a mixture of fantastic and magic realism.
Aomame, the book’s heroine who makes a living working part-time as a physical trainer and part-time as an assassin of men of battered women, finds herself in a world with two moons—accidentally after deciding to take an emergency staircase to escape a traffic jam. It is the year 1984 (and the references to Orwell’s 1984 are intentional and often made explicit throughout the story), therefore our heroine decides to call it IQ84 in order to distinguish it from the ‘real’ 1984.
The two moons are not the only specificity of the IQ84 world. Even if not perceptibly at risk, the IQ84 society is one at the brink of a takeover by a secret association which has emerged out of an extreme left ecological movement turned religious fundamentalist. The leader of this group, who is only known as Leader, acts as the spokesman for the ‘Little People’ who are mostly invisible but which can materialize through animals’ dead bodies and, when they do, are capable of creating clones of real people (using a method reminiscent of some of the horror fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen).
Ultimately, however, the Little People are not as dangerous as the real grown-up followers of the Leader. Besides planning a societal revolution, these are obsessed with the idea of the virgin birth of the Leader’s heir, and therefore encourage the rape of young women. All this is pretty crappy, of course, but unfortunately perverse practices are not unknown within religious sects. That is also how Aomame comes into the picture, since she is assigned the task of killing the Leader in order to protect his victims.
Aomame’s adventures as she goes about organizing the assassination, and then trying to escape, are one storyline. The second is that of Tengo, her soul mate, who works as an editor and is given the task of re-writing the book of a dyslexic seventeen year-old girl called Fuka-Eri, who happens to be the Leader’s daughter and has managed to escape her father’s oppression. Her book which is entitled ‘Air Chrysalis’ is, in fact, about the Little People and their growing power. Once published, it makes it to the bestseller list and begins to stir the waters of the IQ84 world. Consequently, Tengo also becomes a target.
The third storyline is Tengo’s and Aomame’s love story, how they first met as children, lost touch thereafter, and met again in the world of the two moons after perhaps saving the world. This is definitely the weakest part of the novel, especially when, towards the end, Aomame gets pregnant from Tengo but before they have sex. As this appears to have been enabled by the Little People, it raises the question whether the world has really been saved.
Odd—but since the occult and esotericism are central components of IQ84, and given the wide success of some other weird (and pretty awful) fantasy stories like the ‘Twilight series,’ its global success should perhaps not come as a surprise. The book’s largely positive critical acclaim is nevertheless one.