1Q84 – Haruki Murakami

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.

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance
  Random House
Year: 2011
Rating: 4/5

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of this novel by the crew over at Random House. Not only is it always cool to be sent book to review, but I am a huge Murakami fan, so getting this gem in the post was exciting!

This novel may be the most anticipated book of the year. Murakami has a large international following and the hype surrounding the release of this book was pretty intense. For months now I have seen this book talked about all over the bloggersphere and that is something. You know you have made it as an author when people are talking about your book before it has even been released.

As stated in the blurb this book follows the intertwining stories of Aomame and Tengo. Two lost souls who first met in elementary school, and shared one intimate moment, but have long gone their separate ways.

Raised in a religious cult, Aomame has left her roots behind and now works as a fitness trainer by day, and an assassin by night. Sounds pretty ruthless, right? Despite the nature of her job, Aomame could be said to have noble intentions behind her work. She is employed by an old dowager who runs a house for battered women and helps out by ridding the world of the men who hurt them. 

We meet Aomame as she is on her way to a job. She gets stuck in the traffic on the expressway and is worried about not being unable to complete this assignment. Lucky for her, the taxi driver suggests a way in which she can keep her appointment, But her warns her,

And also, the driver said, facing the mirror, "please remember: things are not what they seem."

The driver chose his words carefully: "It's just that you're about to do something out of the ordinary. Am I 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." - Page 9
Reality is a big theme in this book. After Aomame takes on the driver's suggestion things do start to look different and certain aspects of the world have changed. Is Aomame going crazy? Or has the world really changed? What exactly is reality, anyway? 

Aomame dubs this new world 1Q84 and struggles with the fact that she seems to be the only one that can see the changes. Little does she know, someone else has entered this world too. Tengo, the boy she hasn't seen since elementary school is now also all grown up and strange things are happening for him too. 

Tengo works as a maths teacher at a local cram school and harbours dreams of writing novels for a living. Too bad he can't seem to get published. That is until his publisher friend approaches him to rewrite a novel called 'Air Chrysalis', written by seventeen-year-old Fuka-Eri.

Fuka-Eri's novel contains a fantastic story but it is poorly written, so the plan is to have Tengo to fix it up. This basically amounts to literary fraud but Tengo is drawn in by the story and agrees; against his better judgement. By doing this, he soon finds that the world seems different. Things have changed. What is going on? Could the fantasy world created by Fuka-Eri be real?

1Q84 is a big book. At 925 pages and three 'books' which make up the story, this tome made for a lengthy read. In my honest opinion, this novel was too long. I feel like a traitor to the Murakami Army by saying that, but it really could have done with some heavy handed editing. 

The whole novel we follow the parallel stories of Aomame and Tengo, just waiting for them meet up again. This is something that was dragged out through the book and I was a little annoyed by it by the end. You know it is going to happen, it just doesn't, not for 895 pages anyway. I guess some people may enjoy this 'will they or won't they' theme, but I just found it trite.

My only other criticism is the romance aspect of this novel. My opinion may be coloured by the fact I am not really a fan of those sorts of stories to begin with, but I found it unbelievable. Call me cold hearted, but I just didn't feel the love. Can two people really have one 'moment' when they are 10, never see each other again, then still be in love with each twenty years later? Maybe. I don't see it, but I kind of wish I did.

Despite these aspects, I enjoyed this book. It was well written and thoughtful. I enjoyed Aomame's relationship with the dowager, Fuka-Eri's strange personality and felt akin to Tengo's literary ambitions. The story in 'Air Chrysalis' was interesting, and some of the secondary characters were well played out.

Like all Murakami novels, questions relating to human nature and the world are raised, which left me pondering for a long time after the novel had been put down. That is probably the thing I love most about Murakami's work. His ability to make you think about things that you maybe wouldn't have thought about before.

Overall, this was an enjoyable novel. Definitely not Murakami's finest work, but good enough to cement his place as a great modern literary figure.

Have you read 1Q84? What did you think? Are you with me, or do you think this is Murakami's great masterpiece? Leave me a comment and let me know!
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