Saturday, December 17, 2011


1Q84 by Haruki Murakami,
Translators: Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel
Knopf Doubleday, 2011
Hardcover, 944 pages
ISBN-13: 9780307593313 

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.
My Thoughts:

I have just spent the last three weeks working my way through the eagerly anticipated English translation of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. The English translation of this best selling novel includes all three parts of the novels that were originally published separately in Japan. The chapters alternate between two characters,  Aomame and Tengo, for the first two books. In book three the chapters follow three characters, Aomame, Tengo, and Ushikawa. 

Set in 1984, or the alternate reality of 1Q84 (the Q stands for "question mark"), the novel is science fiction but mostly a story about two people who are drawn into an alternate reality and, eventually, begin searching for each other. Aomame is a physical trainer and assassin. Tengo is a math teacher and writer. Aomame enters the alternate reality while on her way to a planned assassination. Tengo enters it after he accepts the assignment of rewriting Air Chrysalis, the debut novel of a young writer. At the beginning, the stories of Aomame and Tengo are separate. About halfway through the novel we learn of their connection and the stories begin to join together. 

1Q84 explores the nature of reality - how one's perspective can alter reality and how events are viewed. What is reality for you may not be for someone else. We may all be living in parallel universes, pursuing personal meaning in our own lives. It also explores fate, powerlessness, fringe religious groups, free will, domestic violence, and vengeance. 

I'll admit, at the conclusion, to mixed feelings about 1Q84.  With the entire pre-publication buzz surrounding 1Q84, I was looking forward to an alternate reality science fiction novel. While it fits that description, it also is filled to a much greater extent with the trivialities of everyday life in the alternate reality, and those mundane activities are very much the same activities we would all encounter. There were tantalizing bits of surreal information disclosed and then pages of the banal activities of the everyday life of the characters. 

While I read all 900+ pages during some very busy weeks, it soon became clear that 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is not really that com­plex, but it is a very long novel. This feeling that it is excessively lengthy could be because it was originally published as three novels in Japan but one very large novel here. The repetition of information and descriptions makes the novel feel overly wordy when the three books are published as one novel. 
In the end I liked 1Q84, but it is not the novel of the year that I was looking forward to reading.
Highly Recommended - when you have the time and patience to tackle it.  



The taxi's radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast. Janaìcek's Sinfonietta—probably not the ideal music to hear in a taxi caught in traffic. The middle-aged driver didn't seem to be listening very closely, either. opening

Aomame loved history as much as she loved sports. She rarely read fiction, but history books could keep her occupied for hours. What she liked about history was the way all its facts were linked with particular dates and places. pg. 3

"Aomame" was her real name. Her grandfather on her father's side came from some little mountain town or village in Fukushima Prefecture, where there were supposedly a number of people who bore the name, written with exactly the same characters as the word for "green peas" and pronounced with the same four syllables, "Ah-oh-mah-meh." pg. 4

"And also," the driver said, facing the mirror, "please remember: things are not what they seem."
Things are not what they seem, Aomame repeated mentally. "What do you mean by that?" she asked with knitted brows.
The driver chose his words carefully: "It's just that you're about to do something out of the ordinary. Am I right? People do not ordinarily climb down the emergency stairs of the Metropolitan Expressway in the middle of the day—especially women."
"I suppose you're right."
"Right. And after you do something like that, the everyday look of things might seem to change a little. 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 always only one reality." pg. 9

At some point in time, the world I knew either vanished or withdrew, and another world came to take its place. Like the switching of a track. In other words, my mind, here and now, belongs to the world that was, but the world itself has already changed into something else. pg. 106
1Q84 - that's what I'll call this new world, Aomame decided.
Q is for "question mark." A world that bears a question. pg. 110
We think we’re choosing things for ourselves, but in fact we may not be choosing anything. It could be that everything's decided in advance and we pretend we’re making choices. Free will may be an illusion. pg. 192

... and still these despicable fakes continue to thrive. That is because most people believe not so much in truth as in things they wish were the truth. Their eyes may be wide open, but they don't see a thing. pg. 244


Or was this simply a false memory of Tengo's? Was it just something that his mind had later decided - for whatever purpose or plan - to make up on its own? pg. 13
Tengo did not know for certain whether he wanted to be a professional novelist, nor was he sure he had the talent to write fiction. What he did know was that he could not help spending a large part of everyday writing fiction. To him, writing was like breathing. pg. 21
"...You, on the other hand, know how to write. Your story lines are good. You have taste. You may be built like a lumberjack, but you write with intelligence and sensitivity. And real power. Unlike Fuka-Eri, though, you still haven't grasped exactly what it is you want to write about." pg. 24

He still could not tell, though, how seriously he should take her. There was something out of the ordinary about her, a screw slightly loose. It was an inborn quality, perhaps. He might be in the presence of an authentic talent in its most natural form, or it could all be an act. Intelligent teenagers were often instinctively theatrical, purposefully eccentric, mouthing highly suggestive words to confuse people. He has seen a number of such cases when it was impossible to distinguish the real thing from acting. Tengo decided to bring the conversation back to reality - or, at least, something closer to reality. pg. 50-51


Joel said...

Actually, I'd say it was published as two novels in Japan. Books 1 and 2 were published together at the same time, and Book 3 came later.

Some thoughts on how that affects my reading of 1Q84 here.

Lori L said...

Very interesting, Joel... I'd have to say that I agree with your thoughts on your blog, however, I standing on my statement that 1Q84 was originally three novels. Even if 1 and 2 were published together it was acknowledged that they were 2 novels.