Ban Fiction: 'Then Somebody Bends' by Mazin Saleem
Non-Fiction: 'Money in Literature' by Page Fox (1900)

1Q84: A Very Bad Book

103575751Q84, a no longer new novel by beloved Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, is the story of Aomame, a feminist vigilante assassin who uses her seductive wiles to kill deserving if unsuspecting men in service of an aging widow with an ex Japanese special forces soldier as her bodyguard. Along with her childhood love, Tengo, Aomame is pulled into a parallel universe in which she must oppose a secretive cult in service of a strange race of alien fae. Aomame becomes embroiled in an attempt to stop these shadowy, possibly demonic figures by assassinating the leader of said cult, who is also molesting his daughter. Meanwhile, Tengo wanders through a surreal, shadowy Japan, trying to find Aomame and return safely to their original reality.

It is impossible to express from the above (accurate) summary how absolutely mind-numblingly boring this books is. You would not believe it. I don’t really believe it, and I read it. It is so insanely boring that one might almost see some spark of genius in Murakami’s ability to entirely denude potentially exciting scenes, like murdering a cultist or having sex with a changeling ingenue, into an experience akin to reading a stereo manual.  Let me be clear; I like boring books. I prefer boring books, mostly, to interesting books--but I cannot stand to be lied to. “This is not a bacon cheeseburger!” I want to yell. “This is salmon, and it’s raw in the middle!” At one point, presumably as a meta-reference to the reader’s own misery, Aomame sits in a room for a very long time and reads À la recherche du temps perdu. I would urge you to follow her example, rather than mine. Come to that, I would recommend you let someone drop Proust’s unannotated work on your big toe, rather than tackle 1Q84.

Let us begin with the title, which is the term the heroine coins to refer to new universe in which she has arrived. It also has something to do with Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare. What, exactly? It’s hard to say, but you know it does because at some point the narrator, afraid you might miss the connection, tells us so explicitly. Reading Murakami one often feels like having a conversation with a precocious adolescent, who keeps referencing titles or authors apropos nothing, just to demonstrate some familiarity.

And that’s just the title; there are words yet to come. Oh, how many words! Every moth-ridden, worm-eaten, hackneyed magical realist cliché is on evidence in this endless-seeming tome. Unexplained grotesqueries? Check. Rambling fairy tales relayed by eccentric side characters? Check. Unerotic erotica? You’d better believe it! Since Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Murakami has demonstrated both a still evident grasp for bad titles as well as a sadly diminishing skill for crafting  atmosphere. But it’s one thing to subordinate plot for mood over a few hundred pages, quite another to waste a million-odd words in such a fashion, the story creaking endlessly before reaching its predictably vague conclusion.  There is no more irredeemably frustrating critical trend than the slavish veneration of narrative irresolution. I am not talking about complexity—I am talking about vagueness, incompleteness, I am talking about writing a thousand page fantasy novel which does not answer any of the questions it poses while simultaneously being as miserably dull as an Algebra text book. Moreover, the sole virtue of an unfinished plot—that it is generally unexpected—is itself obviated by the fact that this is how every Murakami novel always ends. If he ever wrote a book which bothered to explain anything I’d spill my coffee.

There is a certain sort of reader who will forgive any failing in a book, so long as it lacks an ending, as other sorts of readers will forgive anything so long as that anything is about a space marine. I do not hold with either of these camps. The promise of high literature is that it will reveal some sort of profundity; the promise of genre fiction is that you will have a grand old time reliving comfortable narrative patterns. In 1Q84 Murikami wrote a book which fails utterly in either purpose.

How bad a book is 1Q84? 1Q84 is a very, very, very, very bad book. 1Q84 is a terrible book. I know on an intellectual level that someone must have enjoyed this book but viscerally I cannot believe it, it is easier to suppose there is some vast conspiracy seeking to gaslight me into madness, in which case, good on you. This is the sort of book which could only possibly have been written by an incredibly successful author whose work can reach the printing stage without anyone reading it. I cannot imagine what was edited out of this novel. I have been driven to use italics for emphasis, this is how bad a book 1Q84 is. I dislike this book so much that I read it whenever it came out and am now, at least five years later, sitting in a bar and writing about how much I still hate it; I have forgiven lover’s faithlessness in less time.

Please, please do not read this book. 


Daniel Polansky is an author of books and hater of elves. Please tell him, at length, about your favourite space marine book on Twitter at @DanielPolansky.