1Q84, Haruki Murakami: Book Review

An unexpected love story.

haruki murakami 1Q84Vintage / Haruki Murakami
1Q84 Book Cover 1Q84
Haruki Murakami
Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance
Knopf
October 25, 2011
925

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.

After years of admiring the cover of 1Q84, I finally decided to pick up the Haruki Murakami novel back in April in an effort to get through all of the Japanese author’s works that I had not previously read before the end of the year. While it’s obvious at this point that I will not be getting through all of Murakami’s novels before the year is out, I can say that 1Q84 is without a doubt my favorite of his works so far and was well worth the wait (and the amount of time it took to read it).

In 1984, a man and a woman notice strange things about the world that point toward the fact that something is not quite right. Two moons hang side-by-side in the sky, a young adult with dyslexia speaks of the fantastical “little people”, and a religious cult by the name of Sakigake is becoming a popular topic of conversation. Through stories, religion and mysterious circumstances, Haruki Murakami uses magical realism to create a fantastical world as a way of touching on themes of identity, love, religion, spirituality and loneliness. Written in Murakami’s trademark style of short, yet incredibly detailed sentences, reading 1Q84 is more like watching a science-fiction reality show than anything, and I wouldn’t ask for anything more.

This review contains quotes and spoilers from the book.

1Q84 is massive. With the three volume box set being almost 1200 pages long, it may seem a little intimidating at first glance. Although the size may be a little off-putting, Murakami’s style fills the pages with color that pull you into an alternate, yet seemingly real version of Tokyo in 1984. Featuring fully fleshed out characters, Murakami wastes no time in introducing you to Aomame and Tengo in chapters that alternate in perspective but share similarities that lead you to believe that an interconnected story line is in the works.

Offering the tiniest details, a large portion of 1Q84 is dedicated to character backstory and current actions. From the meaning behind Aomame’s somewhat unusual name, to Tengo’s vivid memories of his childhood, Murakami establishes his characters with extreme precision. In a style similar to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a very large portion of 1Q84 is dedicated to nothing, or so it seems. Countless pages are devoted to the day-to-day activities of Tengo and Aomame, whether they are at work, at home, or meeting with a friend. Despite the ridiculous amount of detail provided, Murakami pulls you into to the world, asking you to think and feel about the situations, emotions and relationships that his characters experience on very important topics ranging from literature and music, to health and religion, and everything in-between.

Murakami often makes statements through inter-texuality. By including song lyrics, snippets of popular literature, and history lessons in his works, he touches on important themes by provoking thought on different subjects. It is not uncommon for Murakami to include imaginary fiction within his works either, as many of his protagonists are authors. Tengo, an avid reader and aspiring writer, often struggles to find the right words. Although he has many ideas, it takes a great deal of time, effort and editing in order to make them perfect, which is a process that many authors go through in writing a novel. Interestingly enough, Murakami uses Air Chrysalis, a story within a story, to comment on the writing process and describe his own style of writing in perfect detail.

While the writing was deceptively simple, a closer read revealed that is was in fact calculated and arranged with great care. No part of it was overwritten, but at the same time it had everything it needed. Figurative expressions were kept to a minimum, but the descriptions were still vivid and richly colored. Above all, the style had a wonderfully musical quality.

– excerpt from Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84

By providing this description from Aomame’s perspective, Murakami sheds light on the way that we perceive literature. While Tengo dedicates a large portion of his time to reading and analyzing literature, it is important to note that he does not describe his own writing. Descriptions are provided by Aomame, who is able to provide an unbiased account of Tengo’s abilities, proving that often times, we can be our own worst enemy.

Murakami takes the power of individual thought deeper by discussing topics such as religion, spirituality and belief as the novel progresses. After Tengo and Aomame realize that they are in a slightly altered version of reality, Murakami begins to question human nature, reality and identity as each character begins to contemplate their own existence.

It’s my God. This is a God I have found through sacrificing my own life, through my flesh being cut, my skin ripped off, my blood sucked away, my nails torn, all of my time and hopes and memories being stolen from me. This is not a God with a form. No white clothes, no long beard. This God has no doctrine, no scripture, no precepts. No reward, no punishment. This God doesn’t give, and doesn’t take away. There is no heaven up in the sky, no hell down below. When it’s hot and when it’s cold, God is simply there.

– excerpt from Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84

In many ways, Aomame can be seen as the voice of reason throughout 1Q84 as she is incredibly logical. She is the first to notice that something is off about the version of 1984 that she is living in. After she notices two moons hanging in the sky, she begins to analyze everything around her with a critical eye. It’s important to note that this passage on the nature and forms (or lack thereof) that God can take, is also from Aomame’s perspective.

When we learn about Aomame, one of the first things that is revealed about her is the fact that she grew up in a very secretive cult that believed in the word of the bible. Although she attended public school, she was forbidden from investigating the outside world and lived on her family’s believed doctrines. At age 10, Aomame left the cult and began her own life, hating the idea of religion. As her worldview changes in adulthood, Aomame accepts the idea of religion. However, Aomame suggests that religion is subjective, meaning that it has many forms depending on personal belief, culture and societal influences. In this passage, Murakami touches on the idea of faith and religion as being products of the society and culture that we live in. The concept, in itself, is a very important one, as much like religion, literature is also open to interpretation, and how an individual views a particular passage or theme may be influenced by personal opinions, beliefs and culture.

Although Murakami uses painstaking detail to describe his characters actions and habits, elements of magical realism do exist in this novel. In fact, they are quite strange, even to the reader that is familiar with Murakami’s surreal style. From Tengo’s hard-working and dedicated father, Sakigake’s all-powerful Leader, and the strange events that conspire related to both individuals, 1Q84 is packed full of symbolism.

Strange twists of fate meet Tengo and Aomame, who realize that they are increasingly being drawn toward one another. Tengo finds himself constantly thinking of the only memory he has of Aomame, while Aomame becomes convinced that she is carrying Tengo’s child despite the fact that the two have not seen each other since they were children. Although 1Q84 is full of strange circumstances, I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not Tengo and Aomame would end up together. Murakami is known for breaking up relationships before they can even begin. While a character might fall in love, they are not guaranteed a happy ending.

Hidden throughout the pages of 1Q84, Murakami makes subtle comments about identity, religion, fate, belief, love, media, and so much more. In focusing on the seemingly everyday habits of his characters, which later includes a shady private detective named Ushikawa, Murakami pushes his reader to really think about what is going on. Something as simple as the way that a character speaks holds meaning, and 1Q84 pushes the boundaries, encouraging the reader analyze the world around them in minute detail.

Touching on everything from the reliance on television and media in society, to mental illness, cult mentality and more, 1Q84 was a thought-provoking read that shows that true love does exist. Full of mystery, heart-break and unusual circumstances, 1Q84 is a monster of a masterpiece that deserves to be read (even if it takes you six months to get through the whole thing).

Have you read 1Q84?

If so, share you thoughts on the novel and Haruki Murakami, in the comments below.

Melissa Ratcliff
Reader, Writer & Translator. Cats, books and video games are my life.