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Book Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Written by Chris on Thursday, November 24 2011 and posted in Reviews

Guest review Chris takes a look at 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Genre:  Fiction

Rating: 5 stars

Cover Blurb:

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.


I'll admit - I'm not very familiar with Haruki Murakami. I have heard his name mentioned here or there, but somehow, he's mostly flown under my radar throughout the years. That changed the day I first saw "1Q84" mentioned in an edition of Entertainment Weekly over the summer as an upcoming book.

Alternate universes.. assassins.. bizarre cults..
.. Little People emerging from the mouth of a dead goat..

You don't really need to know too much more than that about this book for it to catch your attention. It's the rare event that a book sold me on concept alone, having never read anything previously by the author, or even knowing what I was getting into.

Coming in at 944 pages in the hardcover edition (and 1,173 in the e-book!) this was quite a committment to make for a first time Murakami reader. But it was so worth it. I can't really emphasize that enough.

There's no simple way to describe the story in 1Q84. It's not even so much a story, as it is fully-realized world. Murakami engrosses you, completely, in this world that he's created, to the point where concepts like decompression and padding really don't even matter. Every minute detail that Murakami describes in the book has value (and he can often go on for pages at a time just setting up a scene.)

The world of "1Q84" is very much like our own. The differences so small in some respects, that the average person would likely not notice anything was out of the ordinary. With one big exception - there are two moons... as one of the main characters, Aomame, discovers one night upon glancing at the sky. But it seems that not everyone can see the second moon. Has she really stepped into some weird alternate version of 1985 Tokyo (thus '1Q84' - the japanese letter Q and the number 9 are homophones) Or is she crazy? These questions, and more, are abound in the early chapters of the book, where we learn that Aomame works as a personal trainer by day, and an assassin by night - killing cheaters, and violent wife-beating scumbags via a skill that we are told is unique to her alone, which makes the deaths seem like heart attacks.

The other main character we are introduced to is Tengo, a 30 year old math whiz who teaches at a local cram school. Unbeknownst to most everyone, Tengo also enjoys writing and is hired by the editor of a publishing company to secretly re-write a short story, written by a 17 year old girl named Fuka-Eri, which has been entered into a literary contest. The short story, called "Air Chrysalis," is to become the focal point of the rest of the novel. Despite the chapters alternating view points between Tengo and Aomame, their two stories are fated to come together, and the building of suspense is masterfully done by Murakami as he peels the layers back little by little throughout the book.. although, I would be giving away too much to say any more about what an assassin and a ghost-writing math teacher have in common. Needless to say, the re-write of Fuka-Eri's short story touches off a thrilling series of events which involves religious cults, and the magical and fantastical Little People, which haunt the world of 1Q84.. always seemingly just below the surface of events.

What Murakami does best with this novel is making you feel like you're truly a part of the world he's writing about. "1Q84" is a long book. A loooooong book. And at times it definitely feels like it. But in mixing the mundane with the fantastic, Murakami manages to make everything very engrossing. Even a sequence of a character preparing breakfast for himself is full of tension, as the prospect of the so-called Little People watching over him hangs over the reader. Although early on we are never quite clear on just what exactly the Little People are, their presence in the story.. like some magical, twisted Big Brother-esque figure, manages to drive suspense into every page.

Bottom Line:

Stephen King fans should love this, although I would say this has more substance than anything King has done in a very long time. If you're like me, and have never read a Haruki Murakami novel before, "1Q84" is as good a place to start as any. It can be a daunting task at almost 1000 pages, but it's definitely worth it. I have seen the novel described as Murakami's magnum opus, and while I can't say for sure since I haven't read his previous works yet, it certainly seems like it would be fitting. This is the type of novel that people 50 years from now will be looking back on as a classic. Do yourselves a favor and pick it up. Read it. Enjoy the world of 1Q84. It's a truly special book, the likes of which doesn't come around very often.

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