What’s it all about?:
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 unravelled.
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.
What did I think?:
It’s strange to think that this is the first Haruki Murakami book that I’ve reviewed on my blog as I worship at the altar of all things Murakami after loving everything I’ve read so far – Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Sputnik Sweetheart and now the 1Q84 trilogy. For anyone who hasn’t read him, let me try and explain a bit about the magic he weaves. First of all, he’s not for everybody. His stories have a somewhat dream-like quality, there is quite a lot of magical realism and descriptive sequences and quite a lot of time can go by where nothing of significance really happens. I have to admit when I first read Norwegian Wood I didn’t get what he was about at all. However I persevered and it was almost like something slotted into place giving me a new-found wonder and appreciation for his work.
1Q84 has been described as his magnum opus and even though there are three distinct novels, books one and two were published together in the same binding. We have two main characters, the first is a woman called Masami Aomame who goes by her surname, meaning “green peas,” and the second is a man, Tengo Kawana who are citizens in the city of Tokyo in the year of 1984. When the novel first opens, Aomame is in a taxi on her way to an important appointment but traffic is incredibly heavy and she ends up using a different exit from the road on foot. She emerges in a whole new world that is exactly the same but significantly changed at the same time which she terms 1Q84.
Aomame is a talented muscle therapist and her clients leave her presence feeling dramatically better, both physically and spiritually. A wealthy older woman, known only as The Dowager gets to know her professionally and then when she sees what kind of character Aomame is, employs her on a personal basis to carry out a series of “missions.” I’m not going to say any more on that front for fear of spoilers.
Tengo teaches maths at a local school and is a talented writer in his own right but with no published work to his name. One day, his editor and friend Komatsu decides to involve him in a ghost-writing project that he is certain will be a great money spinner. There is a manuscript that has come to his attention written by a seventeen year girl called Fuka-Eri who is dyslexic and rather oddly, speaks without using question marks. (Stay with me, Murakami virgins!) Komatsu is certain that if her book, Air Chrysalis is re-written by Tengo and entered for a major literary prize, the world could be their oyster.
After meeting Fuka-Eri, Tengo is equally fascinated and concerned. There is an interesting and quite disturbing back story to the young girl which involved her being raised in a religious cult, known as Sakigake under the control of the henchman known only as the Leader. There is also some suggestion that the things that happened in Air Chrysalis actually happened in Fuka-Eri’s own life inside the cult. As this involves some mysterious Little People (who are not always benevolent) and a new world where there are two moons, Tengo becomes quite afraid about what he has let himself in for.
How are Aomame and Tengo connected? Well, they used to go to school together when they were ten years old and Aomame once comforted Tengo in a moment which he has never forgotten. They both think about each other constantly but at the present time have no idea how connected the two of them really are. Especially when it becomes imperative that there could be dangerous consequences for one or both of them if they do not meet and they are both starting to notice the appearance of two very strange moons in the sky..
As Murakami novels go, this is up there with the best of them and is actually my favourite of his novels that I have read so far. The characterisation is just genius – I loved both main characters although Aomame does clinch it for being particularly intriguing and, let’s face it, supremely bad-ass. Even the supporting characters are well fleshed out, particularly Fuka-Eri who plays a prominent role in the trilogy and Tamaru who is The Dowager’s loyal bodyguard and plays a vital role himself in assuring the safety of our heroine, Aomame.
However, this isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, especially if you’re not particularly familiar with Murakami’s style. It certainly isn’t that nothing really happens as I think this is one of the author’s most action-packed novels but if you’re slightly dubious, I suggest starting with The Wind Up Bird Chronicle just to give you a rough idea of how he writes. For me, 1Q84 had a bit of everything and more besides. It could slot into a number of different genres quite easily and yet is a mixture of so many. Finally, the ending of book two is so incredibly shocking and nail-biting that it’s impossible to delay reading the third for very long, the sign of a brilliant author in my opinion!
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):