Book Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

SUMMARY from Barnes and Nobles:

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The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.

A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi drivers 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 ghost-writing 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.

REVIEW:

“Risk is the spice of life.” – Komatsu

Hooray! So happy I’m finally done reading 1Q84! You could only imagine how many days or weeks I spent just to finish this. Haha! I felt compelled to turn the page and continue. I needed to know what was going to happen. Who were these people? What was the Air Chrysalis? Would Aomame and Tengo reunite? And as each book ended, I was strangely satisfied by what I had read and yet eager to begin the next chapter. FYI, the original version of 1Q84 was written in Japanese and divided into three separate books. The version I read, though, had been translated in English and published as a single book.

I’ve sat down a number of times to write my reactions, and I’m finding it difficult to do. Partly because the book was such a monster – at 900+ pages, it took me almost months to finished it. The thing about 1Q84 that you can’t ignore is that it’s…well… very long. It’s definitely a time and dedication investment on the part of the reader, but I can promise you one thing: from the get-go, you will not be bored at all but you’ll see some repetitions of roundabout events. Every page leads fluidly to the next.

The first thing I need to say here is that there will probably be a few SPOILERS in this review so if you haven’t read the book and don’t want to have outcomes disclosed at this point, then stop reading, dear!!

I’ll preface this review by saying I have not read a lot of Murakami. I certainly am no Murakami expert. I’m only comparing this book to The Norwegian Wood while keeping in mind the opinions of friends and reviews online who have read the novel. But the books I have read, and what I’ve read about him, have always made me feel that his work is essentially Japanese–in its style and content.

“There are certain meanings that are lost forever the moment they are explained in words.” – Leader Tamotsu Fukada

The book centers on primarily two main characters, Aomame and Tengo. It consists of three parts. The first two books are split into chapters from Aomame and chapters from Tengo, then switching back. In the last part of the book, a third point of view was introduced in the person of Ushikawa. At first I found Aomame’s story the most interesting, although I loved Tengo as a character, I can certainly see why he is so popular! Gradually though I became just as interested in each storyline.

Murakami’s 1Q84 starts with a bang. The story opens in 1984, but slowly the two characters who at first seem to be completely unconnected to each other transition into a parallel world where there are two moons and the world is subtly different than the 1984 we were introduced to.

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The book is like of Haruki Murakami’s past books where it is about self discovery of the main character. This time it is about how two long lost lovers find each other’s to the point that they were meant for each other. One of the main character in the book, Aomame, a sharp dressed woman, where in the beginning, escaping from a freeway parking jam by climbing down a multiple story fire-escape ladder and it gets even better when we find out that she is more than just a fitness instructor, of course. She also doubles as a hired assassin. Her agreement with the potent Dowager includes topping men who carry out violence against women, using a special technique she has perfected over the years that involves a long, thin ice-pick-like. After the first incident, Aomame started to notice things that were different from what she used to see. At this point, she started to speculate that she might be in a parallel universe. She was certain that it was not the 1984 she knew she was in. To temporarily reconcile these events, she called that year 1Q84—Q for question mark—where logic didn’t seem to fit in. There was also one major difference in her world and this world—1Q84 had two moons.

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Meanwhile Tengo, another of Murakami’s passive males, who is a math teacher, who was a classmate of Aomame. Tengo rewrote a novel by Sakigake member Fuka-Eri entitled Air Chrysalis, which he didn’t know would be the turning point of his life. From there on, many secrets had been revealed. The events which revealed the characters’ destinies.

1Q84 is a fiction of everything serious and profound. It’s like whatever you read means something else or something deep. 1Q84 is a book full of vagueness. Instead of becoming boring and confusing with overflowing mysteries, 1Q84 just keeps on drawing you into it. The total cluelessness as to where the story is headed, even when I am already done with a couple of hundred pages, has pushed me to continue. It’s that ignorance that got me hooked.

It was interesting as well how he built in areas of the two story lines which fitted together but only really mentioned them briefly. It made me want to read more to find out exactly how the two stories linked together, and just work out the general puzzles of Murakami’s normal oddities.

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The first section is a bit slow and I don’t mean that it was boring or that it dragged. Murakami spends a lot of time setting up the characters and giving you a feel for their surroundings. The last few chapters then drop just enough information that makes you start trying to read faster. The problem with trying to speed through this book though, is you can’t. I found myself stumbling over sentences and having to re-read things when I tried to rush it too much. It is clear that 1Q84 is meant to be enjoyed at a relaxed pace. Like what I said, it deserves your time and attention.

The characters of the story were strong. By strong, I meant they were able to put up with their roles. The course of their actions matched their personalities well. I have to admit that when the Little People were introduced to the story, I did wonder if Murakami had completely lost it, but fortunately he doesn’t go too over the top with the magical realism in the ‘Air Chrysalis’ aspect of the story. The experience you have while reading the book and getting little bits and pieces of information at a time is important and helps you relate to the characters better. At least, I think so.

If there were anything I didn’t like much about the book, it would be the fact that it ended abruptly! Going through some of reviews for 1Q84, I know some people felt like there were moments when the plot did drag on but I personally never noticed it. My only major issue is that there are certain plot points that were left hanging in the end with no resolution. If you had read the story, you’d know that was not where it should’ve ended. The conclusion wasn’t that satisfying. There were still a lot of things which needed answers. What would happen to the Sakigake? What was the purpose of the little one in Aomame’s belly? What about the new air chrysalis the Little People were doing? But the author decided to finish the story right there and then, so poof, end of story. I don’t know, but I strongly believe there are still lots of unresolved issues here.

Overall, this is a great story that is highly recommendable to all who love to read, especially to those who love to take on a challenge or not afraid to read a book that is over 1000 pages long. The book really dazzled me and I loved the surreality of it. The story is intricately written and very well plotted.  It’s complex, surreal, ambitious, and thoroughly engrossing and entertaining.  I’m happy to have read it and will recommend it to anyone that is willing to give it a try. Don’t let the sheer size of the novel keep you away. If anything, reading 1Q84 also made me want to explore more of Murakami’s work. If it’s all as well translated as this novel is, and equally as intriguing or gripping, I am interested.

This review has gotten pretty long, and I can’t remember if I’ve forgotten anything that I wanted to mention specifically. I know this book has gotten a lot of publicity in literary circles so if you have any questions on anything about 1Q84 please don’t hesitate to ask me I’ll try my very best to answer it. :) You can share some of your thoughts too! :)

Here’s the book trailer, in case you’re still not convinced:
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