1Q84 – Haruki Murakami

1Q84 is a 3-inch thick novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami.  It is over 1,100 pages and is divided into three parts –  from April-June (Part 1), to July-September (Part 2), and finally October-December (Part 3) – of 1984.

I read this book back in October (2012), and it took me over a month to finish the entire thing.

This post was originally published in my other blog The Misanthropologist, in three parts, matching the three parts of the novel:  April-June, July-September, and finally, October-December.

For this blog, I integrated (and edited) the original 3-part post into one rather long one (sorry for that).

Part I:  April-June

After finishing the first part, I felt that I should post something about it lest I forget what it’s all about by the time I finish the entire novel.

April-June is made up of 24 chapters alternating between 2 characters who, for the time being, at least, seem like the two main characters of the novel: Aomame and Tengo.

Aomame is yoga / martial arts instructor who is unsure of her existence and what world and time she’s living in.

Tengo is a cram school mathematics teacher / would-be fiction writer trying desperately to hang on to the familiar world he knows and loves.

Both are 29 years old.  Both have had less-than-perfect childhoods. Both have a dark secret.

In this first part, readers are introduced to these two unlikely protagonists. As the plot unfolds, the readers get to know both characters little by little – their personalities, their lives, their pasts.

Throughout the first part of the novel, Murakami teases readers by giving bits of information about his two main characters.  He also introduces minor, but important characters connected to Aomame or Tengo, intentionally not saying too much about them at any given time.

As readers continue to read about Aomame and Tengo, Murakami hints at the possible connection between them – their pasts, and their futures, being careful not to reveal too much.

1Q84 is an indescribable novel.  The style is easy to read, and the narration is easy to follow, but it is filled with strange dialogue, concepts, ideas, and characters that it’s hard to know where the novel is going, or what it is about exactly.

The novel is filled with contrasting opposites.  The characters are interesting, yet boring at the same time; complex, yet, sometimes very one-dimensional.  They are intelligent, yet stupid; intriguing, yet dull.

Likewise, the novel gives off the same feeling.  It is simultaneously unique but unoriginal.  Reading it is like riding a roller-coaster.  At times rather slow, boring and dry, then suddenly fast paced, exciting, evocative and very intriguing.

It is a love story, a mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, postmodern, historical, political…it’s everything all rolled into one.

It touches on many (Japanese) cultural issues.  On the power struggles between men and women; parents and children.  It also touches on issues on religion, education; issues on censorship, freedom, and basic human rights.

Even now, I am not convinced as to whether or not I’m enjoying this novel.  At this point, I seem to have a love-hate relationship with it.  I’m conflicted as to whether or not I can, or should, finish reading it.

In one word, I would describe this novel as “weird.”  Then again, “weird” doesn’t even begin to describe it….

Part II:  July-September

Got through the second part of 1Q84 rather quickly – quicker than the first part, anyway.

There was a gradual build up of events in the first part of 1Q84, ending on a critical part of the plot, urging readers to continue on to the next part of the novel in hopes of getting some answers.

In the second part of the book, the plot becomes more concrete, secrets are revealed, connections between characters are made, and assumptions formed by readers during the first half are confirmed.

Though there are important revelations in the second half, they don’t do much to make the novel any clearer, or any less weird.  As a matter of fact, ideas and concepts revealed in Part 2 only solidify the strangeness of this novel.

Though Part 2 still largely focuses on the lives of Tengo and Aomame, new, interesting, albeit, unsavory characters are introduced in the second half.

I feel that with everything that happened, Part 2 is a critical turning point of the novel – a climax, if you will. Hopefully, questions will be answered and loose ends will be tied on the third and final part of the novel.

I really don’t know what to expect from the third and final part of the book.  I’ve had some hypotheses throughout the novel that have been proven wrong, and at this point, I’m tired of trying to figure out how Haruki Murakami’s mind works.

Part III:  October – December

I have finished 1Q84.

Finally!

It took me over a month to get through this giant of a novel and along the way it piqued my curiosity, made me feel anxious, happy, sad, angry; it bored me, excited me – but most of all, it confused me. It confused me at the very beginning, and even after reading every single one of its 1,154 pages, it still confuses me.

 The third and last part of IQ84 differs slightly from the first two parts because it focuses not just on the two main characters, Aomame and Tengo, but also on a third, curious character named Ushikawa. Ushikawa is an intelligent and cunning ex-lawyer / detective-for-hire hot on the trail of the two protagonists.

For me, Ushikawa was a surprisingly likable character. His attitude toward life and self deprecating manner was endearing, if not a little sad.

In the 3rd part of the novel, more secrets are revealed, and some loose ends are tied, but in terms of action, nothing much happens. It is a time devoted to waiting. Waiting for what might happen next; waiting for answers that may never come.

After reading 1Q84, I got a sense that in writing the novel, Murakami was more interested in giving form to his ideas and breathing life to the characters in his head, and in doing so, seemed to not give too much importance on explaining concepts and ideas and answering questions.

To borrow Murakami’s own words, 1Q84 could be best described as:

As a sto­ry, the work is put to­geth­er in an ex­cep­tion­al­ly in­ter­est­ing way and it car­ries the read­er along to the very end, but when it comes to the ques­tion of what is an air chrysalis, or who are the Lit­tle Peo­ple, we are left in a pool of mys­te­ri­ous ques­tion marks. This may well be the au­thor’s in­ten­tion, but many read­ers are like­ly to take this lack of clar­ifi­ca­tion as a sign of ‘au­tho­ri­al lazi­ness.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call Murakami lazy. Tengo even said it himself:

If an au­thor suc­ceed­ed in writ­ing a sto­ry “put to­geth­er in an ex­cep­tion­al­ly in­ter­est­ing way” that “car­ries the read­er along to the very end,” who could pos­si­bly call such a writ­er “lazy”?

I couldn’t have put it better than Aomame:

Al­though it was a sto­ry about the fan­tas­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ences of a girl placed in un­usu­al cir­cum­stances, it al­so had some­thing that called forth peo­ple’s nat­ural sym­pa­thies. It prob­ably aroused some sub­con­scious some­thing, which was why read­ers were pulled in and kept turn­ing pages.

Ironically, both passages came from the novel and were used to describe Fuka-Eri’s novel, Air Chrysalis.

I would be lying if I said I knew what this novel is trying to communicate to its readers. Honestly, I don’t have a clue. It’s a mystery / love story / fantasy / sci-fi / cultural critique all rolled into one, but deep down, underneath it all, what is it really about?

The most mean­ing­ful thing was whether or not one could ac­cept their ex­is­tence as a fact…

Maybe, it doesn’t matter what it’s really about or whether or not it’s real. Like Tengo, maybe one just needs to believe it and accept 1Q84 for what it is – an incredibly intricate and complicated literary puzzle.

***

1Q84 (2011) – Haruki Murakami

Vintage International; 1,154 pages

Personal Rating:  3.5/5

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2 thoughts on “1Q84 – Haruki Murakami

  1. The urgency posed by the raves of fellow cinephiles (the Facebook group) and your review provokes me to grab it the next chance I get. It’s going to be my first Murakami. Thanks for this. 🙂

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