Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sabbath's Theater- Philp Roth

"Either foreswear fucking others or the affair is over",
Roth's 'Sabbath's Theater' begins with the above line. Mickey Sabbath a 64 year old washed out puppeteer,  serial adulterer,  high priest of debauchery   is having a conversation with  'Drenka' the woman with whom he has been having an affair for the past 13 years.  She wants monogamy in adultery and Sabbath obviously doesn't want to have anything to do with it and tries to dissuade her.  Soon after the conversation 'Drenka' dies of cancer (the reason for her wanting monogamy) and Sabbath whose whole life has been one big orgy with obscenity trials, multiple affairs, seductions and who has seen his brother die young, his mother becoming an near invalid due to that, who has been dismissed from the college where he was teaching due to his alleged misconduct with a student, who at age 64 doesn't think twice about bedding a 20 year old girl,  is aroused at that age by a pregnant woman, he of the unlimited libido and mental fortitude, his life now spirals out of control the rest of the book is about his tragicomic unraveling and snapshots from his past life.

As with all Roth books there is a vitality coursing through the entire novel. This energy is not a life affirming one,  it is the energy caused by anxiety of the characters which borders on the hysterical. The energy too is more mental than physical.  An offspring of the union of anxiety and energy is that many scenarios are king sized and could seem exaggerated. Like how Sabbath goes to the grave of Drenka and jacks off over it. A lover would indeed go to his beloved's grave, but jacking off and that too braving blizzards and extreme cold? And to add to this, Drenka's another lover too comes and jacks off there!!!. It's Roth's writing, a lush, voluptuous prose that is appropriate for a book dealing mainly in carnal pursuit that  makes us overlook and indeed enjoy such exaggerations.  It is in the dialogues that Roth's greatness comes to the fore.  Whether it be a discussion of the pitfalls of monogamy, Sabbath's recalling of an old obscenity trial that he had to face, the recalling of which which he subverts by knowingly replacing a female witness's name by the name of his host's daughter the writing crackles with verve, the chutzpah and the high pitched tone that fits perfectly with the libido driven character of Sabbath and indeed the theme of the book. And Roth can change the tone too if needed, as in the case of the letters written by his father-in-law to Sabbath's wife, Sabbath's brother's letter to his family which are not testosterone driving writing.

Roth has been accused of being a 'misogynist' and one can see in this novel why this tag is attached to him. To say that the female characters are not treated well would be an understatement. Sabbath's first wife is a neurotic who is  more at home on a theater stage enacting different characters than confronting her true self. His second wife is a recovering alcoholic and in therapy. Drenka for her part is sex crazed, a fine match to Sabbath in this regard and probably the only one who gets a bit of detailing from Roth.  In fact other than Sabbath there are no other characters (even male) worth speaking about and that's probably the way Roth wants it too (again a typical Roth template). Sabbath is a gargantuan sexual behemoth who towers over everyone else. Gargantuan not just in size, (at 64 he is but a withered old man) but in his mentality. Whether it be lusting after other women, (as young as 20), indulging in all sorts of sexual debasement, abusing his host's trust or generally being a prick to everyone else whatever he does is king sized in the great Roth tradition of male characters.  Yes, the whole book is indeed Sabbath's theater of indecency and and immorality and Sabbath is the lead actor, director and lord of all that he surveys from the stage.

To be fair to Roth though, he doesn't shy away from indicting Sabbath for all his indiscretions.  Yes, Sabbath abuses his host Norman who puts him up in his daughter's room by jacking off his her underclothes, even makes a pass at Norman's wife but it is never justified.  He agrees that that he is purveyor of immorality.  So while the misogynist tag may be a bit unfair, the fact is that this is a text written by a male with a predominantly male perspective and considering this with the general treatment of female characters in his other works, one does have to say that he maybe does have a deep rooted bias against women. 

As loathsome as Sabbath may be, as depraved are his actions are, when someone writes his own epitaph as Sabbath does
"Beloved Whoremonger, Seducer, Sodomist, Abuser of Women, Destroyer of Morals, Ensnarer of Youth, Uxoricide, Suicide"
it is difficult not to like at least a little bit about the unapologetically antagonistic old man who at the age of 64 is still capable of becoming indignant when monogamy is suggested and who is refreshingly honest about his predilections.  It doesn't make him a paragon of virtues, but neither does it make him a completely hateful character, which would result in the entire book collapsing. The key in books like these where the main character is a voice against conventional morality is that while there should be no disingenuous justification for his acts,  the reader should not be completely repulsed by him and Roth achieves it here. You feel that all the carousing, antagonizing others is just a sham, a play that Sabbath is enacting for him and himself alone and that at the heart of the matter, there is a young kid who never got over his brother being killed in war and his mother losing it completely after that. But then you also feel that maybe even that is put on and Sabbath could be using the events of the past to somehow make sense of his debauched lifestyle. At the end when Sabbath is left at non-man's land (a mental purgatory for him) in the pursuit of his own suicide that he had started off soon after the death of Drenka, you do not know whether to feel happy that he is alive or to kill him and put him out of his misery. 

If you are able to look past the hysterical exaggeration, the high pitched narrative that is present for most of the novel, if you can put up with the sexual deviancy, the treatment of the female characters, then this novel is for you and the glory of Roth's writing is for you to savor.  This is not applicable for just this novel but to all his works.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Two and a half men

After plowing through 8 seasons of 'Two and a half men'  on dvd, till Charlie (the real one) got kicked out, two major things remain with me. One, the series is not as funny as it seemed when viewing isolated episodes on tv with a time gap. This is probably applicable to any comedy series like say 'Friends'. After a point, the cues and gags become predictable, we know when the background laughter is going to come. Some gags don't bring out even a smile. So while the series is indeed damn funny, it isn't the laughathon one might expect after viewing a few episodes. Secondly, I had a sneaking thought that the series was homophobic even when watching episodes on tv. It seems to be valid. Granted that this is a comedy series and I not expecting a 'Brokeback mountain' but some basic sensitivity please. There is thin line between being irreverent and being insensitive and the gay jokes mostly border on the latter.  Irreverence is good in the sense that it helps one take down the holy cows and their holier than thou attitude, but insensitivity is just being callous. All through the series, there are jokes on Alan's (and in some cases Charlie) suppressed homosexuality, jokes on Alan coming out, Alan saying that he is happy that 'Jake at-least isn't gay' and what not. Even the story about 'Chlsea's' father turning out to be gay and hooking up with his old friend seems like a bad parody of 'Brokeback mountain'. 

The actors mostly salvage the series when the writing lets it down. Cryer (Alan) is probably the best of them. It's easy for the viewers to like Charlie as most of us probably want to be like him, but do not dare so :). On the other hand Alan is probably closest to a lot of us in real life, in the sense that like Alan we want to do a lot of things but are afraid to do so and to add to it are jealous of others who do exactly what they want. And Alan as a character is a wimp, leech,  whiner, sponging of others, to put in a single word loser. It's easy to lose interest in him. But Cryer ensures that this is not so, it is not that we like 'Alan' but rather like to hate him and somehow are drawn to his antics even if there is a sadistic pleasure in seeing Alan get into trouble. Angus as Jake probably had an easy time in the earlier seasons as a little kid where he just had to act his age and be suitably dumb. But in the later seasons he comes on to his own. Of course the post wouldn't be complete without 'Berta' who has the most acidic lines in the entire series. Her repartees are damn funny, but only if you are not in her firing line. Holland Taylor is suitable self-absorbed and narcissistic as the character of Evelyn harper demands. 
A quick browsing of YouTube yielded some funny scenes.

1. Alan Playing with himselfAlan getting caught jacking off because the miser couldn't bear to see the pills he had bought earlier expire.

2. Charlie Harper sucks. Charlie's expression on seeing a website devoted solely to trashing him is excellent.

3.Satan. Charlie's greeting to his mother.

5. Alan's Christmas poem(?). Check out Charlie's addendum to the poem at the end :)

I couldn't find the clip where charlie goes to a store with jake to help jake buy a gift and where jake messes up with charlie's head, referring to charlie's funeral. It's Jake's scene but Charlie's reactions are priceless and reminds us once again that the success of the series is mainly due to the actors.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Killing Frost - R.D Wingfield

It is said that the first impression is the best one, and it was the same with 'A killing Frost' the first novel I read of R.D Wingfield (but which is sadly the last in the series). The first time I met detective inspector 'Frost' in the novel was when Frost was fudging his expense accounts!!. I was hooked on to the character right then. Imagine your main cop protagonist cooking up his accounts rather than being haunted by the crimes of the world. 

Frost, a widower is juggling multiple cases at a time there seems to be sudden spike in crime in Denton. Meanwhile he is also facing attempts by his superiors who want to drive him away from Denton and so are pressurizing him to take a transfer. From a purely crime point of view, the novel isn't too great. It does not have a well constructed plot, too many things are happening which can become convoluted, some issues too easily resolved. Twice in the novel Frost breaks into a suspects house in search of evidence, finds it, gets out without anyone noticing him, gets a warrant and does the rest. 

But you know what, in spite of all that I had a ball reading this book which is one of the zaniest crime fiction I have read in recent times. The book does not thrive so much on a plot as it does on the writing and the characters. And what a writing it is too, the height of gallows humor. (It is surprising to know that Wingfield didn't want to write novels, but preferred to write radio plays) Now, gallows humor is used in a lot of crime fiction, but Wingfield seems to have been the high priest of it. (You can see the influence of Wingfield on Stuart Mcbride's writing especially in the black humor part and in the main characters, Frost/Logan). Mind you, it can have the reverse effect too, putting you off the novel as one could feel that it borders on insensitivity in dealing with crime. However, what has to be kept in mind is that the cops are not heartless brutes, but they use this kind of humor as one way of maintaining their sanity amid all the brutality they have to see everyday.

Frost himself is a refreshingly different cross between a character in a 'slacker' novel and the world weary cynical detectives of Scandinavian crime fiction. He is not addicted to his work, tries to get out of his overloaded tasks, but somehow finds himself sucked into it again and again. It's not as if he doesn't want to work at all, but just that he craves some amount of normalcy in his life, like to sleep at least 4-5 hours per day which itself is not possible as the cases pile up. However once he is gets started on his job, he generally gives his full to it. His way of dealing with his superiors who keep haranguing him is to 
"Always agree: that was his motto. You could always say you didn't understand afterwards".

Along with the above logic, he cheerfully lies to his superiors (Skinner/Mullet) without batting an eyelid, overrides their harebrained schemes to implement his own at ground level and is generally a pest to them. His superiors cannot figure him out. He is a bit like the court jester about whom the king is not sure whether the jester is agreeing with him or actually mocking him. And he does sometimes get the results too, so Skinner/Mullet are not able to do much about him. It is a very thin line that Frost walks,  just enough that he irritates them, but not too much that they take drastic measures. For e.g. in a crazy moment he abuses Skinner 
"And good morning to you too, you fat sod" (and showing him the finger to boot)
who is unnecessarily rude to him first thing in the morning and nearly does get caught. And the time when he says
"Comprende, signora"  to Skinner, who is not sure whether Frost knows the meaning of the word and hence has to let it go. But alas, there is a slip up by Frost which gives them the leverage they need over him. 

It is not just all fun in the novel though. Frost for all his outward boorishness does have a kernel of kindness, honesty and fair play. Even the fudging of accounts is his way of getting back at the system which doesn't pay anything for the policemen who put in innumerable hours of over time. He is also protective of Kate a new recruit, who is put through very unreasonable tasks by Skinner because he has a beef with Kate's father. Since it's the only book I have read in this series, I do not know much of the back story, but there are glimpses of Frost's early life, his marriage and the dreams he had then, the way in which they slowly petered out to nothing. All these give a gravitas to the novel. Whether it be the irreverent humor at one end or the more emotional moments, none of them seem forced or put on, they just flow naturally. There is a general tendency to look at humor some kind of escapism, but the fact remains that humor can also be a powerful tool to convey something of importance, without diluting the core of the matter. 

And the core and the choicest part in the novel is how the bureaucracy and the officials in it are portrayed and deservedly so.  These are people who do not want to get their hands dirty, do not want to take any decisions that may backfire later, but at the same time are the first to grab the limelight if things go right. And to top that they are abusive towards their sub-ordinates, bullying and humiliating them. But the other personnel too get their own back at them at times or at least get their satisfaction by using the choicest abuses in their mind. When Skinner first comes to Denton he is asked by the driver who has come to pick up whether he is indeed Skinner, which is a normal enough question. What happens next is

'Who the hell do you think I am? snarled Skinner.
A big, fat, pig-headed bastard, thought Jordan, but he kept the idea to himself. 'You could be someone who thought this was a taxi and just climbed in sir. It has happened before, so I always like to check who my passenger is."

The mental retort of Jordan is damn funny and so is the manner in which he replies to Skinner, which confuses Skinner as to whether his leg is being pulled. But more than that doesn't it give a snapshot of how superiors generally deal with their sub-ordinates, treating them as scum. And what can the people like Jordan do, other than to abuse silently and to find whatever ways he can to get his own back. (I was reminded of Joseph's Heller's 'Catch-22' and 'Something Happened', both of which have their own share of bureaucratic insanity).

As I said earlier, the crime in the novel is not important. A separate series could have been spun out having the life of the cops in Denton as the focal point and with Wingfield's writing it would have been great too. (kind of like the 'Police Academy' series, the difference being the novels would be set in police departments themselves). I didn't want this novel to end at all and so I did a re-read immediately and enjoyed it as much as I did the first time.  Highly recommended if you can swallow large doses of irrelevant humor and are on the look out for crime fiction of a different kind. As for me, I am already on the lookout for the other novels in this series.

Friday, October 5, 2012

1Q84 - Haruki Murakami

"Things may look different to you than they did before. I've had that experience myself. But don't let appearances fool you. There's only one reality". I suspect Murakami had a chuckle when he wrote the above lines, especially the last part not only because one of the protagonist's world (or reality) does get (seemingly) altered just after the above lines are spoken but also because it is complete the antithesis of his entire work. That's how it goes with with 1Q84,  a novel about 2 people (Aomame, Tengo) bound together by an everlasting love but who seem to be doomed to not be together, a metaphysical thriller about 2 people who get sucked into events that are beyond their control. It is also is a reflection of the obsession that fiction can create among us, an obsession that can cause fiction to enter our lives or even more dangerously when we enter the world of fiction. Interleaved among these main themes are others on the periphery like domestic abuse, dysfunctional families, cults and the loneliness suffered by people.

So is this novel a vintage Murakami, with whimsical story-lines, surreal imagery and a hint of mystery as the first paragraph suggest?. You would be wrong to think like that and start reading the book expecting a vintage Murakami, because there is a subtle but significant shift in his writing here. In his previous books, the engagement the reader has is mainly with Murakami the author and not the characters. (with maybe the exception of 'Norwegian Wood'). You are not as concerned about what is going to happen to the characters as you are about what Murakami is going to do next, where he is going to take you. The characters in the books are just a means to an end, which is the magic that Murakami works. It's not due to any shortcoming in the books, but a conscious literary device used by him, where the basic theme/canvas itself is surreal and within that framework you try to relate to the characters, but ultimately it is the canvas that interests you more .  But here the roles are reversed, here it is the Murakami magic which is just a means to an end, which is the characters themselves and their journey through the novel.   In 'The Wind up bird chronicle' how many of us would have rooted for 'Toru Okada' and 'Kumiko Okada' to get together again, most of us would have been dazzled by the imagery of the dry well, the travel through walls, Mamiya's harrowing story to think about it. But here we root for 'Aomame' and Tengo to  get together, desperately yearn that nothing bad should happen to them. The reason for this shift in our engagement is because Murakami has well fleshed out the characters, with solid back stories. You can feel the tension and pain of Aomame and Tengo, who remind us of the old myth when human beings had both female and male organs and after it was split each part is is searching for the other to become whole again (which accounts for the attraction between the sexes). Aomame and Tengo come across as a single spirit split into 2 and yearning to be together again. Not just the 2, but even other characters are more real to us here. There is the deliciously(!!) creepy 'Ushikawa' who is a minor character in the first 2 books, but comes into his own in the 3rd. We actually grow a bit fond of him. Others like Fuka-Eri, Dowager, Tomaru, Komatsu Even the very minor characters like Ayumi and Aomame's friend leave a lasting impact.  Here the we have real(!) world, real characters and metaphysics comes later as a layer over them. 

Another major change is the novel's tone. A Murakami novel is generally also a kind of game where you try to figure out his moves, there is even a kind of playfulness, a thrill, a literary gamesmanship between the reader and him. This novel has this all but in addition it is the most unsettling and disquieting of his works. There is an air of malevolence, evil and even terror hanging over the novel. There are moments that chill the reader like the first time 'the little ones' come out, the time when Aomame meets the Leader when she sees only his silhouette or the time when Tengo sees . These are not typical 'Stephen king' kind of terror moments, but a sudden interjection of an visual which throws the ongoing scene out of gear and takes us out of a comfort zone we have settled in reading the novel. Lets take the scene where Aomame meets the Leader. She goes into the hotel room for a purpose. We know it and are settled in our minds for it. But the manner in which the scene plays out jolts us. This is what Aomame sees in the dark

'On the bed was a deep black object, like a small mountain. Still more time had to go by before Aomame could tell that its irregular outline indicated the presence of a human body'.
'Eventually the outline on the bed began to show a degree of motion-"
"Aomame heard the man release a long breath. It was like a heavy sigh slowly rising from the bottom of a deep well. Next came the sound of a large inhalation. It was as wild and unsettling as a gale tearing through a forest."

The scene plays out over a couple of pages, where you can see that nothing has happened other than what (You) Aomame is seeing. You go into a room expecting to see an important person, but You (Aomame) are initially shocked at seeing a black object, then you realize that it is indeed a human, but the person's actions cause some terror in you. Until the penumbra becomes clear, you are not sure about what is happening and what you are seeing. Another terrifying moment is when Tengo suddenly sees an 'Air Chrysalis' materialize in front of him and he slowly opens it. It is full of excruciating tension, terror and yes thrill too. The thrill is more of a Hitchcock kind than of a slam bang variety. In book 3, a character is hiding in an apartment building. Other than 2 other people, no one knows that the person is there and so the person is not expecting anyone. The calling bell can be rung either from outside the building if the building itself is locked or from the apartment door. One day, the calling bell rings. It is rung from outside the apartment building (i.e) whoever is ringing has not yet come inside the building. This is the first shock, but the person in the apartment doesn't respond. There is silence for sometime. The bell rings again, but this time it is the front door bell of the apartment that is ringing. Just visualize it, doesn't it give the reader a jolt, because it means that whoever is ringing has somehow got inside the building and is right outside the door. The danger has come very close, but since we are also inside the room (along with the character), we do not know who is the person outside and how did he come into the building.
The old literary device of having alternate chapters from 2 different characters view point (in the 3rd book a third character also gets a separate chapter)  can be maddeningly frustrating when you see Murakami stretching out a tense situation to the maximum extent possible, you have the impulse to skip a few pages to see what happens, you could even curse him for leaving you stranded  and moving on to another POV, but you would not dare to put down the book. 

Even considering Murakami's prodigious gift for giving us stunning imagery, this has to be his most visually realized novel. But this I don't just mean scenes of sitting in a well, or a gateway opening, but the fact that one can see Aaomame and Tengo, the size of Tengo's head, the different sizes of Aomame's breasts,  can feel pubic hair scraping against a thigh,see the slimy greasiness of Ushikawa, feel the thunder, heavy rain and  darkness that descends on Tokyo on a day when a very important thing happens. Heck, you can even see threads being plucked out of air(!!!) and an (non-existent) 'Air Chrysalis' being created from those threads, you can see the 'Little People' weaving the threads to create it.

If I had to nitpick about the book, it would be about the concepts which give a sense of deja vu. 'Maza', 'Dohta', shifting of realities, fiction vs reality, alternate viewpoint chapters are not entirely new and have been used by other writers too. (e.g A very important act in the novel reminds one of 'Mouni' short story). Maybe it is a case of unreasonable expectations, but there is no 'wow' concept like say in 'hard boiled wonderland and the end of the world'. And the writing sometimes does get frustrating in a negative way too. There are whole chapters where basically nothing happens. Now, Murakami has always been self-indulgent in his prose and normally this shouldn't be a problem. But we are not talking about 'normal' here, but a 1300 page tome. When you are at around page 900, at a point where book 2 has ended at a cliffhanger and then when you get 2-3 chapters without the story progressing it becomes a tiny bit tedious. There's a very thin line between drawing out a suspense to it's maximum and overdoing it and sometimes he does cross the line. The beginning of book 3 specifically suffers from this, but thankfully it gets back on track pretty soon. The final chapters are sure to leave one breathless, it is a kind of physical pain that you would feel along with the mental tension as you navigate the final chapters, unable to sit still, your mind wandering everywhere, thinking of all the possibilities that could happen but still forcing yourself to read each line so that you do not miss anything. The relaxation of tension and the peace that the following paragraph gave me near the end is something that I have not experienced recently in any fiction (including the so called thrillers and other novels in crime fiction genre)

"There was just one moon. That familiar, yellow, solitary moon. The same moon that silently floated over fields of pampas grass, the moon that rose--a gleaming, round saucer--over the calm surface of lakes, that tranquilly beamed down on the rooftops of fast-asleep houses. The same moon that brought the high tide to shore, that softly shone on the fur of animals and enveloped and protected travelers at night. The moon that, as a crescent, shaved slivers from the soul--or, as a new moon, silently bathed the earth in its own loneliness. THAT moon"

I was able to breathe easily only after reading the above paragraph, even thought there was still a tiny bit of tension. (This is not a spoiler and only people who have read the novel can understand the significance of this prose).

More surprisingly there were some instances of utterly corny prose that I never would have imagined of Murakami, like the part about the description of a sexual act, penis, which I am pretty sure that Murakami didn't mean to be funny, but is downright hilarious. Generally speaking he is not comfortable writing about sex :). And there are similes like hanging on the ship's mast during a storm, which are so antiquated. But there are instances like the one below (about religion and cult) which make up for it.

"Most people are not looking for provable truths. As you said, truth is often accompanied by intense pain, and almost no one is looking for painful truths. What people need is beautiful, comforting stories that make them feel as if their lives have some meaning. Which is where religion comes from."

I am not being an Murakami apologist here, but I find many responses to 1Q84 intriguing and coincidentally relative to another recent work of art. To digress a bit, as I was reading this my mind kept going back to this google plus post by Giri.

"முப்பது வருட சாதனைகளைத் தாண்டி இன்று 'நீ தானே என் பொன்வசந்தம்' மூலம் திரையிசைப் பாடல்களில் மீண்டும் ஜெயித்திருக்கிறார் இளையராஜா. இவ்வளவு சாதனைகளைக் கடந்து இந்த வயதில் புது பாணி இசையை கையகப்படுத்தியுள்ளது அவரது திறமைக்குச் சான்று. எண்பதுகளின்  ராஜா இசையை எதிர்பார்க்கும் ரசிகர்களுக்கு இந்தப் பாடல்கள் பிடிக்காமல் போகலாம்."

For those who don't read Tamil, it talks about a great musician 'Illayaraja' who has re-invented himself after all his earlier achievements, without resting on his laurels. I wouldn't say that Murakami has re-invented himself, but he has definitely gone to places where has not been to earlier, changed his narrative tone, become more intricate than ever and all of this without losing or compromising on his original strengths that made him what he is today. He has added new arsenal to his armory of story telling talent.  It does take a lot of confidence to spin out a 1300 page tome on what is basically a love story without caring a hoot for narrative conventions or past glory, having belief in oneself and the reader.  Being from Tamil Nadu myself, I can tell that there is a huge percentage who will just about accept any output from 'Illayaraja'  (not doing so would be sacrilege). But Murakami is on more shaky ground here as the reader is more fickle, he is as apt to drop you as he can embrace you. And the general reactions on '1Q84' seem to bear this out. There have been complaints that it is not like his earlier works (in a parallel the same complaints have been made about the music I have referred to above), it is lengthy etc. Doesn't that the fact this work is unlike the earlier ones is a sign that Murakami is evolving, isn't that a good thing. Now one can say that the book as a standalone is trash which is perfectly fine, but to compare this with earlier works and trashing it just means that we are reviewing the person and what we expect from him and not the work. Coming to length, one thing we can all accept is that all books of Murakami have some content that can be termed as superfluous. As I mentioned earlier, he is and always has been a bit self indulgent about his prose. We were able to accept him in that way in his previous books, so what happened here? The length I agree could be a problem. It's one thing to read a 400 page book with some superfluous content, but reading a 1000 page book can be tiring. So again the problem is not something new to this book (self-indulgence), but is only magnified by it's length. Arguably the book could be reduced by 200 odd pages, but the fact is I would have swallowed up another 300 pages if it had been there, the positives outweighing the other issues.

This is a love me or hate me kind of book with no middle ground.You can trash it but just make sure that you looking at the book as a independent one, not bound to Murakami's earlier works. As for me I recommend this book wholeheartedly, an important work Murakami's oeuvre, a work that seems to signify a shift in his writing. I have mentioned 'seems' because one can never be sure about what he will do next. I for one am eagerly awaiting his next book, to see the direction in which he is going to go. There is so much material for even another 3 book series on 1Q84 (or 1Q85) continuing with Tengo and Aaomame. 

You would want to re-consider looking at the moon from now on after reading the novel. I had a 'Murakaminesque' (it's high time we start using 'Murakaminesque' as an official term) experience during reading it when I woke in the middle of the night and with no conscious thought looked out the window for the moon and saw that it was still single and alone. Beware, the book can get that addictive.