5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Delicate story despite the size,
This review is from: 1Q84: Books 1, 2 and 3 (Paperback)
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.