I recently finished two books that I was really looking forward to reading, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, and I came to the disappointing conclusion that I wasn’t crazy about either one. They’re completely different books, written in a narrative that is nothing alike, covering topics that are on far opposites of the literature spectrum and yet I didn’t think either one left any sort of positive lasting impression. This is contrary to the avalanche of reviews that use words like “inspiring” and “life affirming” to wax poetically about them. I feel like a bad person admitting that I just wasn’t swept off my feet the way so many people were. SPOILER ALERT
If I had to pick the better of the two, it would undoubtedly be 1Q84. It’s definitely not The Greatest Thing I Have Ever Read, but it’s certainly not as terrible as The Fault in Our Stars, which is awful in a entirely separate dimension of it’s own. 1Q84 is a story about a Aomame, an assassin employed to kill abusive men, and Tengo, a yet unpublished writer, who both enter an alternate reality through different means and each embark on a path that ultimately leads them to each other by the end of the book. We know it’s an alternate reality because some weird stuff happens involving religious cults, two moons in the sky and a lot of general creepiness. Here is where I admit that my lukewarm feelings about 1Q84TF are 50% my own fault. I started reading 1Q84 without knowing that it was a surrealist piece even though I was well aware that Murakami’s work dabbles into magical realism. When I read the summary, I interpreted ‘changing realities’ the wrong way and made the assumption that it was either a metaphorical change or, if it were real, was going to translate into a dystopian mystery-type plotline. So you can imagine my surprise/confusion/horror when I realized that Fuka-Eri’s ‘Little People’ were “real” and they CLIMB OUT OF THE MOUTH OF A DEAD DECAYING GOAT AND A 10-YEAR OLD GIRL. LIKE I JUST. I JUST. WHAT.
I know now that all of ↑that↑ was a byproduct of the parallel world that Aomame and Tengo entered, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it threw me for a loop a couple of times. It’s worth looking past because at the heart of the book is a story of how two people manage to find each other decades later guided only by a single moment together in their childhood that bound their fates, which is preeeeeetttttty romantic (•ิ ε •ิ) I am the biggest sucker for any story whose theme is LOVE THAT TRANSCENDS TIME (FRINGE HEYO). I know some people found the repetition in the narrative to be banal, but I saw it necessary as a means to explain how two people are experiencing the same moment in different ways. I get that it isn’t the most creative way to go about it, but it did the job. I will, however, say that it felt a bit dragged out (900 PAGES) at times and some of the details in certain scenes seemed really trivial adding nothing to the plot. So while I don’t agree with most people who quote it and call it a mind-blowing piece of literature, I most definitely didn’t hate it. It was a tough read and I wanted to give up a few times, but it was clearly better than TFIOS which I wanted to put down almost immediately.
The Fault in Our Stars is a love story about sixteen-year-old Hazel Grace and seventeen-year-old Augustus Waters (LOOK AT THESE NAMES), who meet at a cancer patient support group and embark on a journey that explores what it means to exist in the world, to love someone, the finality of death and what is left behind for those who live. Both Hazel and Augustus are wise beyond their years and share a similar nonchalance about the circumstances of their lives and their illnesses. Augustus passes away at the end of the book and Hazel learns To Care. The moment Augustus puts a cigarette in his mouth and then says it’s a metaphor when Hazel tells him off, I was DONE WITH THIS BOOK and yet I put myself through the misery of finishing it because I needed to know why I found it so aggravating.
My problem with TFIOS is that it is manipulative. It’s trying too hard. John Green writes his characters the way that he himself speaks and they have no voice or personality of their own. I understand (to the best of my ability) that living with an terminal illness at such a young age must give one a very jaded view on life, but the way that Hazel and Augustus pepper their conversations with existential commentary on the state of humanity is so pretentious. I found myself stopping on more than one occasion just to say, “WHO TALKS LIKE THIS?” because no one does. I can suspend belief for a great story, but I can’t help but be annoyed when actual dialog reads like a tragic fantasy romance novel. One of my favorite lines in the book is this and it stuck with me because I thought it perfectly expressed the desperation and longing that comes with the need to be with someone you love. I liked it enough for me to pick up TFIOS in the first place, but it was wholly ruined for me when I realized Augustus says it out loud to Hazel. I don’t know any seventeen year old boys or anyone of any age who would say something like this. I could have accepted this kind of writing if it were all prose; another line I enjoyed is “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once,” which I love because Hazel thinks it rather than says it, but it’s like Green writes these all these emotionally packed one-liners first and then constructs a cliché storyline to pad it with and it’s awful. There is a review on Goodreads that says Green wrote Augustus’ character as a Manic Pixie Dream Boy and I agree except that I’d say it’s a Manic Pixie Dream Romance. Hazel herself isn’t any better. Where Augustus’ character is bothersome because he feels unreal, Hazel’s character is insufferable in the way she treats people and feels justified in doing so because she is sick.
When an author writes a book about teenage cancer patients who fall in love, you know that you are in for a emotional read. But when the main character talks about how “cancer books suck,” because ‘everyone cries when you write about cancer’ and how her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, is different because it’s not a sob story, all while you the reader, are reading a book that will more than likely make you cry? That’s just rude. It’s a book within a book, a meta within a meta and it’s like Green is mocking you for doing exactly what he sought out to do. I cried at the end of the book for the situation, but not for any of Green’s one-dimensional angsty pseudo-intelligent characters.
There are moments in the book that are brilliant and touching, but so much of it is garbage that it’s hard to say I enjoyed reading it because I really truly did not.
HEY LOOK AT THAT
ClarissaMarch 27, 2013 at 2:01 AM
Even as a Murakami fan, 1Q84 is proving difficult to get through. My favorite book is actually The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, but 1Q84 has been really start and stop for me.
susanMarch 28, 2013 at 4:25 PM
I’m so sorry if I spoiled anything for you EEK. At one point, I gave up and just left it on my desk for 2 weeks. Paid overdue fines because I refused to give up, but damn it was hard work. I hope you manage to finish!