Actually the first Japanese set story I listened to was 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. Unfortunately (or not), my listen of this book was influenced by a few reviews I read beforehand. Most were extremely positive, but being the person I am, I always feel compelled to read the bad reviews as well to try and balance my perspective. Those bad reviews from Audible.com included the following comments that I’d like to address:
That “there are too many mysteries presented that allude to some greater meaning-to-be-explained that are never resolved and don’t actually mean anything”, that it “tried too hard to evoke Orwell’s 1984“, that “Allison Hiroto’s narrative was terrible”, and that the book had a “far-fetched love story axis”.
Before I get to this however, here’s a much pared down version of Audible’s blurb:
As our protagonists’, Aomame’s and Tengo’s, narratives converge over the course of a single year (1984 in Tokyo), we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.
A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s, 1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.
To start, I have to agree with one of the reviewer’s comments that the book was a bit overbloated. Particularly in the third book when a third main POV character was added. At this point when the character’s fates are converging, we start getting the same events happening from three points of view, which was somewhat interesting, but still very much a bit much when it came to the story.
As to the comment about it trying to evoke 1984, I’m not sure I agree, though it’s entirely possible I’ve just forgotten too much about 1984 to see where the reviewer is coming from. I would agree that it tried to bring forth themes that nothing anyone did was truly private. In this story, it wasn’t the government watching, but some other entity. And the irony of the fact that, in spite of this near complete lack of privacy, it was still entirely possible to be and feel completely alone and lonely.
Allison Hiroto’s narrative could be fairly bland, I’ll admit that. However, to me her delivery felt completely perfect for the primary character she was portraying. Aomame has essentially cut most emotions out of her life, and nearer the end, she turned dreamy and hopeful in my mind’s eye. I feel Ms. Hiroto presented the Dowager and Aomame’s friend on the police force well also.
As to the unfinished threads and far-fetched love story angle, I got the impression these two reviewers weren’t reading the book I did. I’ll admit the more supernatural aspects of the book remained unexplained at the end, but for me that made sense (which is saying something, as I tend to prefer to have the author explain things as well). 1Q84 WAS a love story. All the rest was just means to that end and never needed to be explained.
All that being said, I fully enjoyed this audiobook (which was a long one!), and would strongly recommend it. In addition, the audiobook includes interviews with the two translators at the end, during which I learned that Murakami is a translator himself, and briefly wondered why he wouldn’t have translated his own works into English, knowing exactly what he meant with the writing (unless it was just because it might take more time than he wanted to commit). The interviews led to some insights for me into Tengo’s character as well.