1Q84 Haruki Murakami

Jan 31, 2015 review (read between Dec 29, 2014 – Jan 27, 2015)

1st reading read review on Goodreads

Reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle had somewhat soured me on Murakami, but I had already purchased 1Q84 so I decided to give the author another chance.

1Q84 follows the stories of Aomame and Tengo, two characters who don’t have much in common, in parallel narratives told in alternating chapters. Their wildly separate lives get tangled up in their own separate messes, but the reader gradually learns about how their unique problems are intricately connected. I actually found the way the big mystery is unraveled separately, yet in parallel, through Aomame and Tengo’s narratives, to be incredibly effective. Murakami does a fantastic job of ending almost every chapter in a cliffhanger, resolved quickly in the next despite the focus and perspective being on the other character. After getting used to this payoff, it became almost Pavlovian how I wanted to continue reading chapter after chapter.

Despite being such a long book and having two parallel narratives, the story itself is fairly tight. It does get a bit fantastical, as if to remind you that it is a Murakami work, with the most real-worldly element being a religious cult that seems to embroil itself in both Aomame and Tengo’s lives. The cult’s Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ aspect seems to be what is being alluded to in the title, but beyond that there isn’t much. Sure, the story takes place in 1984, and there are reasons why the characters refer to it at 1Q84, but with what seems like to be a huge reference to Orwell’s 1984, there isn’t much in the book to account for it. That said, there are other references to fairy tales and folklore that are much more compelling to both the characters and the reader throughout the novel.

1Q84 is not without it’s flaws. Murakami still likes to reiterate things constantly, and given the book’s length, it felt as if the author was reminding the reader to remember a specific point in an unsubtle manner. Whatever subtle nuances there were were quickly overwhelmed by how many times it or whatever else that Murakami deemed more important were repeated. Naturally, this leads to a longer novel, and despite not many of the individual chapters feeling superfluous, many felt long-winded. This may be a side-effect of Western releases of 1Q84 being a compilation of a trilogy of Japanese novels, but it certainly meant that I was skimming more paragraphs to quickly turn the page to get to the next chapter.

But, as I’ve said before, the story is tight, and despite the repetitions, is a page turner. The fantastical and fairy tale elements worked in the context of the story, and expected, given that it’s a Murakami novel. The characters were also more likable than in any other Murakami work I’ve read. And most importantly, the ending was oddly satisfying. It still felt a bit rushed given the length of the novel (and circumstances within the story), but there were less loose ends and ambiguities left at the end of it all, which, given my previous experiences with Murakami novels, was enough for me.