I picked up this book after seeing/reading/hearing the scads of excellent reviews. Everyone loved this book and I like Murakami's writing, so I figured it was a win-win.
I was so very very wrong.
And I ask you this: How can you possibly make a book about an alternate universe, with an assassin, a cult, and bizarre fantasy creatures boring? Add lots of Patriarchal attitudes, child-rape, and mountains of exploitative (but boring!) sex. And ejaculations. No, really.
I don't know if Murakami doesn't have a good voice for a long novel or if he just can't write a long novel, or I just have to reassess how I feel about him. This book is very much in his voice, no doubt there. If you are in love with his voice, then I could see someone suffering through the book for that. There are major attitudes in this book that I not only disagree with, but have known to shred other books for.
The storyline is moderately complex, which could have been nice. The first two "books"/sections of this lengthy tome have chapters that alternate between the two protagonists, Aomame (a fitness trainer turned assassin) and Tengo (a math genius turned school teacher by day, writer by night). They met in school when they were 10. They have spent their entire lives being in love with one another and finally find each other at the end. Sorry for the spoiler, but you knew it would happen, and I might have saved you the anguish of reading this thing.
Aomame has been contracted to kill the leader of a cult. Coincidentally, Tengo has been contracted to ghost write (rewrite) a book/story written by the Leader's runaway daughter. Somewhere along the way the two characters end up in an alternate reality (which is what the book Tengo writes is all about). The cult tries to find Tengo, then Aomame, and then I'm not sure what the hell they're doing. The last book adds a third character, a PI who has been contracted to find Aomame and Tengo (at different points). In the end Aomame and Tengo end up in (what is probably) yet a third alternate reality, but they're together, and Aomame is inexplicably knocked up.
But here's the kicker, somewhere along the way, Murakami manages to piss me off with a few attitudes. One is that he manages to justify pedophilia/child rape. See the cult leader has intercourse with young girls, but it's OK, because they are their "alternate" selves, and the poor cult leader really doesn't want to do it, but has to ejaculate into them while having a seizure... or something. Hell, he even has sex with his own daughter. There's also a lady-cop friend of Aomame's that ends up killed (either accidentally or on purpose) during some sort of "kinky" sex, and of course, she asked for it by engaging in "risky" behavior. Victim blaming, FTW! Basically, the kids, the pedophilia, the death of the woman are all turned around with some primo victim blaming. Joy. The Patriarchy is rife in this novel, as are what I believe to be the author's attitudes. At first I really wanted to like this book because I wanted to like Aomame, but I was wrong. So very wrong. Between the writer's attitudes towards his subjects, the attitudes of the characters in the novel and (again) the rapeyness and victim blaming. There are lots of sex scenes, even more ejaculations, and nearly all of it is meaningless, violent and gratuitous.
The narrative? Wordy as hell. It takes pages to say nothing. The language isn't pretty or interesting. I ended up skimming through large sections because nothing was being done or said.
So yeah, if you adore Murakami, go for it. I don't recommend it. If you want lots of dry, boring, gratuitous and meaningless sex (ejaculate!), child-rape, a boring and endless narrative, then it's all yours.