The "1Q84" trilogy is, without doubt, an impressive book. In many ways, the trilogy almost has to be read in this way as the three component books make little sense on their own. The first book in the series in particular is almost completely baffling if taken in isolation. It does, though, demand a degree of dedication, and if the prospect of a 1300 page novel in which not a huge amount happens in terms of plot and in which there is a significant level of repetition leaves you cold, then this might not be the best entry point into the wonderful world of Haruki Murakami. As often with Murakami though, it's possible to read this book at a number of levels. On the surface it's a love story set in a slightly fantastical setting with a little bit of crime thrown in. At a deeper level, he explores the this lines between imagination and reality, life and death and what you might call yin and yang. It's a novel where balance and vacuums play a big part. It seems counter-intuitive to call a book of this magnitude "delicate", but that's just how the story appears.
The first two books consist of alternating chapters on the lives of two people, fitness instructor Aomame and maths teacher and struggling novelist Tengo, who we subsequently learn have more of a connection than we at first think. Incidentally, apparently Aomame translates as "green beans" in Japanese which is one of the few areas in which the English translation of this story misses out on a beautiful quality of the original. In fact, it's worth noting that the third book has a different translator to the first two, but you would never notice. The third book introduces the perspective of another character, the shifty Ushikawa, and if I have one criticism of the book it is that this third perspective does rather slow down the already stately pace of the book as for much of the first half he merely repeats knowledge that we already know about the back stories of Aomame and Tengo.
"1Q84" might also creep into the genre of dystopian fiction but in a light way. The book starts of in 1984 but while Aomame doesn't initially notice any changes, an event soon takes her into an alternate reality, hence "1Q84" where the only clear give away is that there are two moons in the sky rather than the traditional mono-lunar normality.
Aomame and Tengo are both involved in a secret sideline, and both are likely to land them in a whole heap of trouble. Although there are hints that the two stories go together, it's not really until about half way through the second book that the knowledge of each other becomes clear to the reader. In fact, it is this point on the book, around half way through, that the book moves from being intriguing to being downright clever and, at one level, quite deep.
While I haven't read a huge amount of Japanese fiction, I think of Murakami as being quintessentially Japanese. The Western reader is always aware of that slight cultural disconnect and sense of Eastern mysticalness. What makes this book unusual therefore is the heavy allusions to a raft of Western literature. The title itself of course brings to mind Orwell, but there are explicit and implicit references to works ranging from Alice in Wonderland to Chekhov via Shakespeare.
Although if you are new to Murakami, I might suggest starting at some of his earlier works, although long, this is always accessible. One note of caution though would be that, as fans of Murakami know, he is not shy of the odd sex scene and here there is a slightly uncomfortable element of pedophilia that might cause offence to some. It's not as entirely clear cut as all that but to reveal why would involve an element of spoiler revelation, but there are moments when it is slightly uncomfortable shall we say?
It is without doubt a superbly clever and well constructed book and, as always with Murakami, there is a certain charm and beauty to the story. Aomame, in particular, is hard not to like for all her quirks and dubious actions. If you've never read Murakami, you should, and you should probably start with something like "Norwegian Wood". If you are already a convert though, this is a joy and will have you checking the night sky just to be sure.
on 28 November 2012
I was enjoying this trilogy so much that I eked out the reading experience as much as possible. I left a fairly long gap in between books two and three simply because I didn't want it to end, which goes to show just how much I liked it.
The novel finds us in Tokyo in 1984, where Aomame is living a double life. To the outside world she is a solitary but pleasant gym instructor, but in her spare time she works as an assassin, killing men who have been violent towards women. A bizarre encounter with a taxi driver serves as a catalyst for a sequence of unusual events that lead her to feel that something about the world around her has intrinsically changed, and this feeling intensifies when she notices a new, second moon in the sky.
Meanwhile, across town, Tengo is an aspiring author who gets an offer he can't refuse: to re-write a debut novel by the peculiar teenage Fuka-Eri in order to give it enough polish that it might become a literary bestseller. As he gets drawn further into Fuka-Eri's surreal yet captivating fictional environment, he too begins to think that the real world he is living in is not quite as it was before. Unbeknown to each other, Aomame and Tengo's lives become linked as they both get more and more involved in the curious world of 1Q84.
Much of this book represents business as usual for Murakami and his brand of magical realism. There is something enchanting about the way in which he takes ordinary, unremarkable characters and transplants them into extraordinary settings. But I especially loved the eccentric supporting cast he created here - the sinister gangsters Buzzcut & Ponytail, repulsive private investigator Ushikawa, beautiful Fuka-Eri who manages to be enigmatic and socially awkward in equal measures. Every single person who appears in the book is vividly drawn and perfectly pitched, and each sub-plot is as engrossing as the next. I really enjoyed reading about Tengo's strained relationship with his father, about the dowager's personal crusade against violent men, and about the shady cultish commune of Sakigake.
The only real criticism I have is that it is just a touch too long. As I mentioned above, I took a break between books two and three and when I returned to it I found myself growing impatient - there's a good 150 pages or so where very little happens, and I did feel that a lot of it was covering old ground. However, when you consider the delay between books two and three being published in Japan, this becomes a bit more understandable. And just as I was really starting to become disillusioned everything picked up again for the wonderful ending (which really did tug at my heart strings, and I am not usually a soppy reader).
What you really need to know is this: if you're already a Murakami convert, you'll adore this book. If you are new to his work, this probably isn't the easiest place to start. I don't know if 1Q84 has the same special place in my heart as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle but it definitely comes close.
This is very special. I even dreamt about it. It utterly possessed me. It is wondrous, magical and compelling. I don't know where to start... From the first page, I felt it was different. I have not loved a novel so much for at least 10 years. It is the discovery of the year for me, maybe the decade.
Murakami has an incredibly vivid imagination. I never knew where he would take us next - he is totally unpredictable. The form and design of the work is ingenious, clever and disciplined - like the finale of Mozart's Jupiter symphony where all the little pieces of the jigsaw gradually fit together like magic. And like certain pieces of music (for example the finale of Act 2 of The Marriage of Figaro), the author's fertile imagination keeps it going on and on endlessly, better and better, as if time is suspended, in a way that takes the breath away. Some have complained 1Q84 is too long, but I felt there was not a word out of place - everything is deftly calculated and in exactly the right place, and it is perfectly proportioned. The last chapter felt exactly right, rounding the novel off perfectly while being emotionally and intellectually so very satisfying.
It is odd how different authors sometimes independently catch a particular concept, perhaps reflecting the prevailing 'zeitgeist'. I recently read 'The Day' by Rachel Walsh, which includes several slightly surreal short stories inspired by the organisation of Jehovah's Witnesses. Murakami takes a similar idea further, into 'Alice in Wonderland' territory. The Sakigake religion, the dark heart of the 1Q84 world, seems clearly inspired by the organisation of Jehovah's Witness in the real 1984 world. Both Walsh and Murakami point up the parallels with totalitarian communism.
I hope none of what I have written gives the impression that this is an overly arty or intellectual book. Far from it, it is quite a page turner, a thriller with a big love story at its heart.
This was my first introduction to Murakami (it was recommended by a friend who had just read 'The Day') - but it won't be my last.
Read this - you owe it to yourself.
on 22 October 2015
NOTE BEFORE READING: ‘1Q84’ is usually published as one humongous book in the western world (my copy had 1318 pages), but it actually consists of three books that were originally published separately. I will therefore talk about book 1, 2 and 3 even though the copy I read has bundled these into one book.
The story: ‘1Q84’ tells the story of two characters: Aomame and Tengo. When Aomame gets stuck in a traffic jam, her taxi driver advices her to take the emergency staircase if she still wants to be in time for her appointment. In doing so, Aomame leaves our world and enters another one. This new world, which she dubs 1Q84, seems very similar to ours, yet contains some key differences. Meanwhile, Tengo gets asked to ghost-write a novel written by a beautiful but very strange young girl named Fuka-Eri. Both are doing something very dangerous. Both are getting involved too much with 1Q84.
Of course, there is a lot more going on, but because this book is so long I do not want to spoil too much already.
The characters: I don’t have too much to say about the characters, really. Both Aomame and Tengo were nice enough and go through some character development. Especially Aomame has a complicated and interesting personality. Fuka-Eri was probably the most interesting character. She was very hard to pin down.
- The first two books build up the suspense very well. The first book is a bit slow, but then the second book has it all: it gives us answers to some major questions, it has a great atmosphere and it is action-packed.
- The concepts of the ‘Little People’ and ‘Air chrysalises’ were interesting and one of the major compelling factors of this book. It kept me reading, because I really wanted to know what these things were and what they did.
- The story itself felt fresh and original.
- The relationship between Tengo and Fuka-Eri was very well done. It was unusual, but still believable. I loved that Fuka-Eri (who never talks more than a sentence at a time) opens up to Tengo and how he gains her trust.
- Aomame just kicks ass.
- After reading the entire three books consisting of 1300+ pages, I’m still left with a lot of questions. What do the Little People want? What exactly is the purpose of an air chrysalis? Who is Tengo’s mother? Where is she? What has happened to Fuka-Eri? I understand that a writer doesn’t have to explain everything to his/her readers, but I think ‘1Q84’ could have done with a little more explanations, especially for the Little People and air chrysalises (which are key elements to this story).
- The third book was incredibly boring. During the third book, Murakami adds another viewpoint, namely that of Ushikawa, a guy who has to do research on Aomame. I think Murakami wanted us to read about his research, because it is supposed to add suspense to the story: the bad guys are slowly creeping up on Aomame without her realising it. However, EVERYTHING that Ushikawa discovers about Aomame the reader already knows. This wouldn’t be too bad, but his chapters go on for pages and pages and pages. You can’t force your readers to basically read a very lengthy summary of your first two books. It was boring and drained the third book of every bit of suspense it had.
- This isn’t a problem that only arises during Ushikawa’s chapters. Essentially, the entire third book felt repetitive and slow. I actually skipped entire chapters and had no trouble whatsoever with following the storyline. Seriously, you can’t do that to your readers. You CAN’T force us to read through 500 pages where almost nothing happens.
- The ending was an anti-climax. I won’t tell what happens, but I had expected a lot more.
I would give the trilogy of ‘1Q84’ 3.5 out of 5 stars. This score could have been a lot higher if the third book had been better. All in all, this story has some good factors, but the third book is just soooo bad. I would actually have given ‘1Q84’ a lower rating if it hadn’t been for the superb second book. If you want to read this work, I would advise you to read the first two books and then the last fifty pages or so of the third book. Or just look it up on the internet. Since you can buy the first two books without the third one, you can actually save some trees as well.
Firstly, can I point out that this is the first of Murakami's works that I have read. I purchased the Audible book through my subscription when this came out in a recommended list, and liked the look of the story. Part way through, I came on here and looked at some of the existing reviews and apparently this is not a great introduction to Murakami's depth and style. It is frequently recommended that "newbies" try Kafka On The Shore. I still found 1Q84 satisfying, and will definitely move on to other works. But if you're finding it a slog, try the recommended alternative.
AUDIBLE-RELEVANT REVIEW CONTENT:
There seems to be mixed to poor opinion of the narration in this from Allison Hiroto, who portays the significant role of Aomame. A lot find that she is too quiet or meek. I am of the opinion that the quiet, calm, measured and precise nature of her voice fits in perfectly with the way the character Aomame is portrayed. She is rarely flustered and always exudes a calm exterior. The narration by Hiroto lends itself to this perfectly, as does the gravelly Mark Boyett for the quasimodo-esque investigator Ushikawa.
GENERAL PLOT AND CHARACTERISATION:
1Q84 is a long, carefully crafted masterpiece of a novel. It is delicate and unique, much like the characters it portrays. The depth of detail is sometimes off-putting, and I can imagine that, were I not forced to hear each word in the unabridged audio edition of this, I would have ended up skimming a lot of it. Do not. There is beauty in the detail. It would seem that a lot of the time Murakami is unnecessarily repeating details and descriptions, but when something in 1Q84 changes, because of this repetition, the reader becomes aware immediately. Almost like a revelation.
It did admittedly become annoying to keep on hearing (or reading) "Do you understand" ... "I think so". They're clearly all very unsure of themselves!
In terms of the characterisation as well, every main character is brutally scrutinised down to the smallest detail.
I was therefore left very annoyed with the lose threads at the end. Not the chrysalis threads - that area of the story was tied up for me neatly. But there were a number of main characters built up that I would have liked some closure on how their stories were completed. Fuka-Eri, for example.
In order to read and enjoy 1Q84 you have to leave a little bit of reality behind before you open the book. There are references in here to, and more than a little nod towards, Alice in Wonderland. If you try to be reality-critical, you will not enjoy this novel. If you do not like thinking behind the story, you will not enjoy this.
1Q84 is essentially a love story. But it is so much more, and so beautiful, that I can ignore its general faults in the repetition and style, and the open endings on some of the characters. I will still read this again, and again, and again.
on 18 May 2016
I discovered Murakami books about a year ago having had one sitting on the shelf for years neglected as for some reason other things kept getting picked ahead of it! As soon as I'd taken the plunge and read the first one (Dance Dance Dance) I quickly moved on to the rest and set about buying myself a full set! Kafka on the Shore remains my firm favourite to date. I also ended up feeling that Murakami might just be my favourite author.
The slow pace of Murakami's writing makes it a very relaxing and calm read, it becomes almost meditation and dream like particularly with the very abstract aspects to some of the stories. That said, there is still a good story in each of the books and they are still gripping reads.
1Q84 was my birthday present to myself, I saved it for the occasion as the description sounded like something I'd really love. It has all the Murakami charm and character but ultimately I felt that it had been a little too drawn out and had not been as enjoyable as some of the others for that reason. Certainly well worth reading for anyone who appreciates Murakami's style, but I'm not sure if I'd read it again.
on 14 May 2012
The title of this review sums up the book, really: 1Q84 is a characteristically Murakami book. The two central characters, Aomame and Tengo, are just normal people, the former a fitness instructor (with a dark secret); the latter a maths teacher. They find themselves embroiled in a series of obscure events that gradually bring them closer together and closer to an ending (which is satisfactory, thankfully). The prose is meticulously detailed and often overwhelmingly beautiful: this is the only reason Murakami gets away with writing a 925 page novel where next-to-nothing happens.
And that is essentially the problem with 1Q84. His meandering non-stories can survive in shorter novels and short stories (Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, a collection thereof, is a fantastic entry point if you've never read Murakami before) but they are stretched too thin here. If you are a die hard Murakami fan then you probably own 1Q84 already but if you're not, I'd suggest Kafka On The Shore, After Dark or Norwegian Wood as better places to start with this supremely talented author.
on 8 December 2011
It's probably best to come out and say that I was already a fan. My favourite of Murakami's other works are The Wind up Bird Chronicles and Hard Boiled Egg. I doubt that this book will appeal to people who have attempted to read his other books and have disliked the level of surrealism. This book explores that territory further, from the first chapter there is the feeling that our Alice (Aomame, a candidate for my favourite character) is following her own white rabbit. None of it is done with the in-your-face, spelled-out-small-words-in-big-letters way that we are accustomed to receiving from Hollywood. It is entirely dream like, the scenes effortlessly blend the mundane with the not quite real with the fantastical. The language and vocabulary are simple, clean and crisp, not particulary fanciful, or exuberrant, but solid. The humour is dry, even underhanded, I couldn't help laughing out loud on occassion.
The personalities are lovingly developed, at the end of the book you can't help feel a real attachment to them, Tengu perhaps becomes a bit of an übermensch, but his spirit is completely at odds with the kind of Western (Atlas Shrugged) übermensch, and it does not feel clumsily done.
Reading it was like entering another's dream, a shelter from the stresses and strains, I looked forward to ready more every night after work.
Also, if you dislike it, due to it's extreme weight and size, it can be used as an assault weapon.
on 12 August 2015
Talk about overrated! I can't believe how such a bad book can get such a high rating. The idea for the story is not bad, but that's pretty much all I can find to praise. The writing is very clumsy, the characters mostly ridiculous, and the book is endlessly repetitive. I thought maybe the writing style was so bad because of a bad translation, but you can't blame translators for the repetitions; really, how many times do I need to read about what the characters were wearing and cooking???? Not to mention the sex scenes, my word, some of the worse sex writing in literature ever, I felt embarrassed for the writer. It looks like it could maybe have been a half decent book if instead of trying to stretch it to a trilogy some competent editor had taken care to cut at least half of it. If this is Murakami's masterpiece, well, I don't want to think about what the others books are like.
on 26 November 2012
I bought this on the strength of having read some of Murakami's previous works and I was no disappointed. The characters are beautifully crafted and the world is convincing and confusing by turns! A wonderful adventure told by expert hands. I have to add, however, that had Murakami stopped after Volume 2 I would have been quite happy with the ending. As I waded in to Volume 3 I was thinking, well, the story's already finished, but Volume 3 rounds of the story wonderfully and resolves many of the questions raised in the previous two volumes. Loved it all the way through, despite my misgivings at the start of Volume 3. I would highly recommend this to anyone that likes to read!