Author: Haruki Murakami
944 pages, Published by Knopf
The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.
A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.
As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, 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. (Summary provided by Knopf.)
I was initially skeptical when I began reading 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I wondered, What makes this book such a critical darling? What sets this one apart? Why do I feel like I’ll be missing out on something huge if I don’t read it? 1984 by George Orwell is one of my favorite books and all I could think when I would read the summary above was, Rivals 1984? WTF? We’ll see about that!
Turns out that the 1984 comparison is quite warranted. By the time I finished the first section I was in deep and turning pages rapidly. Though, this is by no means a quick read. It took nine days for me to finish this one.
1Q84 follows the lives of Tengo and Aomame as they separately enter in a sort of parallel universe which Aomame names 1Q84. At the beginning of 1Q84 Tengo rewrites a novel called Air Chrysalis that a sheltered, young girl named Fuka-Eri has entered into a writing competition. Air Chrysalis is a fantasy story about a group of mysterious beings referred to as the Little People.
Throughout the novel there is much commentary regarding writing and literature. My favorite moment by far in the book was when Aomame procured a gun from Tamaru, a bodyguard for the wealthy dowager for whom Aomame is putting her life in jeopardy. The following exchange occurs:
“According to Checov,” Tamaru said, rising from his chair, “once a gun appears in a story, it has to be fired.”
Tamaru stood facing Aomame directly. He was only an inch or two taller than she was. “Meaning don’t bring unnecessary props into a story. If a pistol appears, it has to be fired at some point. Checov liked to write stories that did away with all useless ornamentation.” (From 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami)
I was on the edge of my seat waiting for that gun to be fired. Does she ever fire it? You’ll have to read the book and find out.
There were instances like this throughout the book. Murakami writes about literature and writing with a satirical wink at times and a dogmatic nod at others. At one point, Tengo is reading reviews of Air Chrysalis and the reviews quoted could easily be criticizing the content of 1Q84. Murakami’s presentation of the criticism and Tengo’s response to that criticism seems to say,”I know what you’re going to say about this book, and here’s why you’re wrong.”
Murakami definitely has a swift sense of humor. In addition to the references to the writing world, there were other humorous moments in the book that caught me by surprise. Ayumi, a minor and ultimately tragic character in the book, had some of the funniest dialogue I have read in a while. Also, Aomame’s penchant for balding men with odd shaped heads gave me a chuckle.
The thing that dazzled me the most about 1Q84 was the fantasy element. Anytime the Little People entered a scene it was a shock, and the scenes describing the construction of the air chrysalis were magical. Murakami described it with such detail that I felt like if I looked hard enough I could see the white silken strands in the air around me.
At one point in the book Tengo reads a story about a mysterious and very scary city of cats. I read this section late at night, and it totally freaked me out. There are a couple of instances like this where the action of the story stops and one of the characters tells or reads a story. Later, each of these instances is expertly weaved back into the action of 1Q84.
Ultimately, the novel is a story about enduring love between Tengo and Aomame. A love so strong that one brief encounter twenty years earlier has made both Tengo and Aomame determined to be reunited in the strange, new world they have found themselves in. I was very sad to see 1Q84 come to an end. 1Q84 is a novel about many things. It is extraordinarily hard to explain or describe after just one, hasty reading. My best advice to you is to read 1Q84. Think about it. Ponder it. Then read it again.