Published by Knopf on October 2011
Source: my shelves
Goodreads | Amazon
1Q84 (pronounced “kyu-teen-eighty-four”) was originally published in Japan in 2009-10 as three separate novels. Its title is a play on words of sorts, with the letter “Q” and the Japanese word for the number 9 (kyu) being homophones. As you may have already guessed, the title is also a reference to George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, 1984.
Murakami’s dystopian novel takes place in Japan in 1984 and begins by introducing us to Aomame, the first of two main characters whom the story follows. Aomame is in a taxi, stuck in a traffic jam on an elevated expressway, and she has an appointment that she must be on time for. The taxi driver tells her that she can still make it to her appointment on time if she takes his suggestion and follows his instructions: there is an emergency pull-off a few yards away from where they are stuck in traffic and if she gets out of the cab and walks to the pull-off, there is an emergency stairwell of sorts that leads down to the street below the expressway. Once she gets down to street level, she can simply take the subway to her destination and make it to her appointment on time. Aomame decides to take the taxi driver’s advice, but before she gets out of the taxi the driver gives her one last piece of advice: things are not what they seem, and she needs to remember that although things may look different once she gets down to the ground, there is always only one reality. Aomame doesn’t really understand why the taxi driver is telling her this, but she thanks him, gets out of the taxi and follows his instructions to get down to the street below. She will soon discover that by taking the stairs down from the expressway, she has also entered some kind of parallel/alternate reality–one that she soon dubs “1Q84”–that is best distinguished by an anomaly in its night-time sky.
The next scene in the book introduces us to Tengo, the other main character of the book who is an aspiring novelist and who works as a math instructor at a cram school (prep school). In this scene, Tengo is asked by an editor whom he is friendly with to rewrite a book originally written by 17-year-old author Fuka-Eri. Her book, Air Chrysalis, is being considered for an award but will never win if it is presented in its current writing style. Tengo knows that ghostwriting this book is a dangerous venture; if it should win the award and if people should find out that it has been rewritten by a ghostwriter, it could ruin the reputations and careers of everyone involved. Little does Tengo know that rewriting Air Chrysalis will have far larger and stranger effects on his life than any he had previously imagined.
1Q84 is broken up into its three original books, with each book covering three months of the story: Book 1 tells the story from April-June, Book 2 includes the events of July-September, and Book 3 finishes up the story with the months of October-December. The story is told by alternating between the perspectives of Aomame and Tengo, and as it progresses, their individual narratives start to converge and we learn that they are connected in many ways. In true Murakami fashion, as Aomame and Tengo search for one another and as their paths come closer together, some very strange people enter the story and some very strange things happen. In 1Q84, Murakami writes about love, family relationships, friendship, literature, history, religious cults, violence and murder. 1Q84 is part love story, part fantasy, part mystery, and all typical-Murakami-weirdness. He reminds us that there is an extremely thin line between perception and reality.
As usual, Murakami leaves a lot of the story open to interpretation and it will leave you thinking for weeks (or possibly months) about what you’ve just read. Since I’m still thinking about it, and because I don’t want to give any spoilers here, I won’t go into my personal conjectures about what all of it might mean. I would, however, like to say something about the obvious recurring elements in every Murakami book I’ve read so far: music, food, and clothing.
Throughout the five Murakami novels I’ve read, food (and drink), music and clothing are written about in great detail. The characters make very particular choices concerning those things, although Murakami sometimes tries to make those choices seem nonchalant. As the always-hilarious Amanda of Dead White Guys put it…
@readingape And clothes. At my point in book, everyone is Very Noticeably Unconcerned With Their Clothes (but here's what they're wearing).
— Amanda Nelson (@ImAmandaNelson) November 11, 2011
In addition to writing about the characters’ individual tastes, Murakami often weaves a particular song or two into the actual plots of his stories. When I first learned of Murakami last year, I did some research before I started reading his books. I found out that he has always been influenced by Western culture, and no one can deny that our culture as a whole takes its food, music, and clothing very seriously. I also learned that Murakami’s first job was in a record store, and he later opened a coffee house/jazz bar with his wife. All of that could explain why he puts so much emphasis on those three elements in his stories, even though they might not be a direct part of the plot. While reading my first Murakami novel (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle) I kept asking myself, “Why do I need to know these things? Why does he keep putting so much importance into exactly what the characters are wearing and eating?” Then I started to enjoy it. I realized that telling us those things about the characters really brought them to life and made the whole story more believable. We all make those decisions every day: what to wear, why we’ve chosen those particular items of clothing, what we’re going to eat and why. And most of us are pretty picky about the music we listen to. I know I am. I have come to expect and love those details from Murakami when I’m reading one of his novels. Those personal details about his characters are a natural part of the way Murakami tells a story and I think I would be disappointed now without them. The way he writes gives me a fantastic mental image of everything that’s happening. He makes it all feel so very real.
I’ve not yet read a book by Murakami that I haven’t liked and 1Q84 was no exception. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading good literary fiction and/or fantasy.
Have you read 1Q84 yet? What are your thoughts?
(To learn more about Haruki Murakami, please visit his author page on the Random House website.)
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