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- Japanese title: 1Q84
- Published in three volumes: volume one and two in 2009, volume three in 2010
- Volumes one and two are being translated into English by Jay Rubin, with volume three to be translated by Phillip Gabriel; in the US these will be published together in one volume 25 October 2011, in the UK they will be published as two separate volumes.
(See also the October, 2010 Q & A in Asahi Weekly, Translator sees U.S. influence in Murakami's humor and writing style in which Jay Rubin reveals that he has a 15 November 2010 due date for his translation.)
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A : nicely built up (if very drawn out) story -- and interesting mix of the substantial and insubstantial
See our review for fuller assessment.
*: review of only volumes one and two (combined)
**: review of only volume three
No consensus, opinions all over the place; volume two better than volume one
From the Reviews:
- "The characters of 1Q84, some fearing that free will is an illusion, constantly worry that they have opened Pandoraís box, that time is irreversible and deeds cannot be undone, that there is no way back. The bookís big epiphany is all the more thrilling for being a simple sleight of hand, a shift in perspective that reframes the world." - Dennis Lim, Bookforum
- "Mr Murakamiís main influence here is not so much Orwell as Philip Pullman (.....) His early works were intensely personal fantasies involving unhappy, virtually disembodied men and suffused with references to Western music and literature. 1Q84 is much longer, but also far more conventional." - The Economist
- "1Q84 is "a place where questions outnumbered answers," and this is not the kind of book where the long, tangled threads all come together in the end. (...) I finished 1Q84 one fall evening, and when I set it down, baffled and in awe, I couldn't help looking out the window to see if just the usual moon hung there or if a second orb had somehow joined it." - Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly
- "Most readers of Murakami's mega-novel, his longest to date, certainly his most ambitious if not his most finessed, will be brimming with questions as they make their way through it.(...) Yet for all its haphazardness, 1Q84 is an extraordinary feat of sustained imagination, even if it essentially merely extends Murakami's now familiarly surreal and slightly tired fictional formula over a much broader canvas than usual." - Jerome Boyd Maunsell, Evening Standard
- "In vielerlei Hinsicht ist 1Q84 ein klassischer Murakami-Roman, gemacht aus genau jenen Zutaten, die auch seine bisherigen Romane auszeichnen. Murakami kreiert surreale Bilder mit dem Zweck, das riesige Möglichkeitsspektrum der Wirklichkeit fassbar zu machen. Denn zumeist geht es um die Bewältigung moderner Lebenskrisen, am Ende steht man vor einem klassischen Entwicklungsroman, den man nicht gleich als solchen erkannt hat, weil er in ein fantastisches Gewand gehüllt ist. (...) Murakami (...) hält auch in 1Q84 seine Geschichte zielsicher und elegant in einer magischen Balance, die irgendwo zwischen Traum und Wirklichkeit, zwischen Wachheit und Schlaf angesiedelt ist. Dass der Roman über 1000 Seiten hat, fällt da gar nicht weiter auf." - Julia Kospach, Falter
- "Fantasy liberates Murakami from the conventions that logic and reality impose. When he strikes the right note, he can delight us as much -- well perhaps not quite as much -- as Lewis Carrollís magic potions and vanishing Cheshire cats. But artifice can be taken to excess so that, rather like in a David Lynch TV series, even the most startling of occurrences is drained of significance. (...) Fans of Murakami will find all their favourite elements here. Sceptics, even as they are swept along, will wonder whether they are being led on a wild goose chase with no conceivably satisfactory ending." - David Pilling, Financial Times
- "Hat sich die Lektüre gelohnt ? Ja und nein. (...) Weniger mitreißend ist Murakamis Geschlechterkampfkulisse in diesem als apokalyptische Liebesgeschichte angelegten Werk (.....) Hauptthema von 1Q84 ist die Einsamkeit, die Menschen in der Gegenwart empfinden, und die Angst, die aus der Vereinzelung resultiert. (...) Der veritable Schöpfer leerer Gespinste ist also letztlich Murakami selbst, und man kann sich nicht entscheiden, ob man ihn wegen seiner kaltschnäuzigen Kunstfertigkeit verurteilen oder bewundern soll." - Lisette Gebhardt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
- "Der Roman ist, wie gesagt, nach dem Prinzip des „Wohltemperierten Klaviers“ gebaut, und dieses Vorbild legt der Autor auch offen, wenn er Tengo auf die siebzehnjährige Fukaeri treffen lässt, die Bachs Werk als ihre Lieblingsmusik bezeichnet. (...) Pro forma könnte man den Roman einen Krimi nennen, denn es geht darin um Mord, Betrug, Verschleppung, Kindesmissbrauch. Doch Murakami spielt mit den Genrekonventionen, und wenn er auch kein großer Sprachkünstler sein mag, so ist er in formaler Hinsicht zweifellos einer der gewieftesten Erzähler, den wir haben, und 1Q84 ist diesbezüglich sein Meisterwerk." - Andreas Platthaus, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
- "Whatever else about 1Q84, it is maximalist Murakami. With its animal allegories and echoes of folk legends, the references to everything from Alice in Wonderland to the Gnostic thinking of Carl Jung, the novel offers the most complete prťcis of its authorís lifelong preoccupations and eccentricities. For fans, the more is the merrier; for newcomers, the book may be a few oddities, and a couple of hundred pages, beyond the patience threshold." - Charles Foran, The Globe and Mail
- "In het eerste deel schuurt Murakami akelig dicht tegen pulp aan, of de boeketreeks. Misschien wil hij een punt maken. Misschien stond zijn vizier nog niet helemaal scherp. Het gevolg is wel, dat moet gezegd, dat het eerste deel soms dodelijk saai kan zijn. (Het tweede deel maakt dat goed: dat jaagt. De beschrijvingen zijn scherper -- al zijn ze niet zo haarfijn als je gewend bent --, de spanning is drukkender, bijna elk hoofdstuk eindigt met een cliffhanger. Bijna ouderwets goed.)
" - Joost de Vries, De Groene Amsterdammer
- "Yes, this is a Haruki Murakami novel, where magical and dreamlike phenomena are deadpanned into existence with the same calm craft that his characters routinely employ in cooking themselves delicious-sounding Japanese meals (.....) Disparate pleasures are each given time to grow rich by the novel's long span, especially a sad, funny and ultimately wrenching portrait of a private detective, who unexpectedly becomes a third focus of third-person narration in the third book." - Steven Poole, The Guardian
- "Prolific, prolix, prodigious: read the book -- or rather the books -- and pick your preferred epithet. (...) But too many recaps slow the action. Since Murakami does nothing by halves, it makes as much sense to blame him for baggy repetitions as to ask Proust (whom Aomame reads in a safe house) to cut the fancy ornament and crack on with the plot. Yet, in terms of more conventional criteria, he can excel whenever he wants." - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent
- "1Q84 is driven by outsiders in a culture that prizes conformity. Identity and belonging, the porous membrane separating stories and reality, and a whole host of Murakami icons from talking cats to one-way portals all contribute to this rich and often perplexing mix. But ultimately, 1Q84 is a simple love story that ends on a metaphysical cliff-hanger." - James Urquhart, Independent on Sunday
- "For all Murakami's metafictional digressions and magical realist flourishes, 1Q84 is at heart a traditional romance. (...) (C)onsidered as a whole, 1Q84 has a range and sophistication that surpasses anything else in his oeuvre. It is, for my money, his most achieved novel; an epic in which form and content are neatly aligned." - David Evans, Independent on Sunday
- "Murakami uses this novel-inside-a- novel micronarrative to discuss issues ranging from the writing process to cultism. While some of these motifs are a first in Murakami's repertoire of long fiction, he has honed in on many such themes in nonfiction. (...) Given the gravity and previous treatment of Murakami's motifs, readers might imagine 1Q84 to be a slog to get through, but this is not the case, thanks to subtle humor and fresh narrative details. (...) Though the initial sales of 1Q84 have come from name recognition and media buzz, as time passes, it could be received as Murakami's magnum opus, or at least the best novel of 200Q. This novel -- mired in death and fetish, leavened with humor -- may become a mandatory read for anyone trying to get to grips with contemporary Japanese culture." - Matthew Chozick, The Japan Times
- "Murakami provides a true ending for the majority of the plot lines, at least all three of the major characters, but he again fails to flesh out the mythology of the alternate universe and there are questions that linger after the final page (.....) Even with a whole extra book, Murakami seems to run out of pages toward the end, making the resolution feel rushed. This volume is especially frustrating because Murakami reveals a possible ending -- the way to escape from the alternate universe -- a third of the way through the book. We must wait for loose ends to be tied up before the characters can attempt escape." - Daniel Morales, The Japan Times
- "The work is not a complete failure, but it could have done with some diligent editing to cut away the fat. As it is, the reader needs a strong stomach to digest it. Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel's spot-on translations ensure the novel slips easily into the Haruki Murakami Western oeuvre, falling somewhere between A Wild Sheep Chase and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle." - Steve Finbow, The Japan Times
- "Voor wie vandaag nog verlegen zit om een vakantieboek waar je echt je tanden in kunt zetten, is 1q84 een absolute aanrader: spannend maar ook diepzinnig, meeslepend maar toch soms dromerig, makkelijk verteld maar o zo zinderend en intens. Kortom, een weergaloze ode aan het geconcentreerde, zinnelijke leven." - Frank Hellemans, Knack
- "(A) thrillingly well-plotted story (.....) The novel has one foot firmly in the real world, and the other in the domain of science fiction and illusion, making the novel partially fantasy. Meanwhile, the book is a strong protest against the trampling of free will by domestic violence, cult groups and family backgrounds. Murakami's novel reflects on an understanding of the world today and this time his craft is more refined than ever." - Chung Ah-young, The Korea Times
- "1Q84's first 600 pages are an imposing display of narrative engineering. Information is dispensed in a controlled, thrifty manner; tropes from high and low culture are handled with easy showmanship; further plotlines and curlicues are effortlessly thrown out. (...) Book 3 came out a year later in Japan, and the eventual happy ending was a feat of audience-tweaking on a Dickensian scale. (...) The collapse of the main plot isnít the only thing that muffles the bookís large statements about reality, fantasy and Japanese society." - Christopher Tayler, London Review of Books
- "(T)he truest pleasures of the book may be the most writerly, primarily its epic sense of structure (which functions as something of a fun-house mirror, endlessly reflective) and its many references to history and literature. (...) None of this is to suggest that 1Q84 is perfect; in places, the coincidences line up too neatly, and a plot line involving the "Little People" -- actual beings who may or may not have a spiritual agenda but mostly function here as agents of chaos -- peters out like a neglected thread. But in the end, that's minor stuff in the face of a vision, and an act of the imagination, this profound. 1Q84 is a big, sprawling novel, a shaggy dog story to be sure, but it achieves what is perhaps the primary function of literature: to reimagine, to reframe, the world." - David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times
- "The realisation of motifs and metaphors in real, felt, human ways is profoundly affecting. This isn't to say 1Q84 is without flaws -- rather that it's roomy enough to accommodate them. Fantasy dialogue is usually overly reliant on exposition and when Murakami's characters aren't being themselves, they have a habit of sounding like Dan Brown extras" - Luke Kennard, The National
- "Die Bedeutung des Romans 1Q84 liegt eventuell tatsächlich nicht in der inhaltlichen, sondern in der kulturmissionarischen Dimension: Murakami schreibt «Weltliteratur», indem seine Romane in Millionenauflagen überall veröffentlicht werden. Er stärkt damit das japanische Ansehen und die Wirtschaft. Dies macht ihn zu einem Global Player, nicht aber zu einem zweiten Dostojewski." - Lisette Gebhardt, Neue Zürcher Zeitung
- "Diese und andere Defekte, die zahllosen Ungereimtheiten, auf die man bei aufmerksamer Lektüre stösst, sind nicht etwa der Schlamperei des Autors geschuldet, sondern seinem Ehrgeiz, Fisch und Fleisch, Fantasy und Realismus in Harmonie zu bringen." - Leopold Federmair, Neue Zürcher Zeitung
- "The paradox of reading 1Q84 is that itís a "page-turner" that is very easy to put down. We acquired our copy in July and put it down for weeks at a time. It is easy to pick back up again because of Mr. Murakamiís constant repetition of the various aspects of his premise and the slow progression of the novelís events. (...) Itís also rendered sex grotesque: either ideally romantic, emptily casual, brutally violent or so mystical as to not really be sex at all. Thereís little in the way of mixed feelings, which are to many of us the stuff of life. In this way, 1Q84, a novel that strives to contain everything, delivers very little besides an occasionally fun adventure." - Christian Lorentzen, The New York Observer
- "1Q84 is a vast narrative inquiry into the fantasies that bind its dramatis personae to this world and the ones that loosen them from it. (...) Whatís fascinating about 1Q84 is its ambivalence about "the logic of reality" and its wish to plunge the reader into the "far greater power" of Unrealityís unlogic, which has the advantage of revolutionary fervor and reformism. (...) I finished 1Q84 feeling that its spiritual project was heroic and beautiful, that its central conflict involved a pitched battle between realism and unrealism (while being scrupulously fair to both sides), and that, in our own somewhat unreal times, younger readers, unlike me, would have no trouble at all believing in the existence of Little People and replicants. What they may have trouble with is the novelís absolute faith in the transformative power of love." - Charles Baxter, The New York Review of Books
- "(S)tupefying (.....) The very thought of Aomameís situation will pain anyone stuck in the quicksand of 1Q84. You, sucker, will wade through nearly 1,000 uneventful pages (.....) It used to be customary, in a book of this magnitude, to explain unanswered questions and tie up loose ends. Mr. Murakami clearly rejects such petty obligations, and he leaves many of the parallels in 1Q84 cryptic and dead-ended. He perceives, and we receive, and the reception isnít all that clear." - Janet Maslin, The New York Times
- "For all its superb moments, 1Q84 feels uncontrolled, erratic and repetitive: it is threadbare where it should be plush, and overstuffed where it should be streamlined. The writing, meanwhile, veers from exquisite to slapdash to simply embarrassing. (...) Still, what troubles me most about 1Q84 isnít these surface gaffes but the psychological and moral void below. (...) 1Q84 is psychologically unconvincing and morally unsavory, full of lacunas and loose ends, stuffed to the gills with everything but the kitchen sink and a coherent story." - Kathryn Schulz, The New York Times Book Review
- "Ook ik verheugde me op 1q84 (...) Des te groter was afgelopen weken de teleurstelling bij het lezen van 1q84. Het tweeluik, dat is genoemd naar de parallelle fantasywereld waarin de twee hoofdpersonen in het jaar 1984 terechtkomen, begint spannend en intrigerend, maar wordt na een paar honderd bladzijden steeds zwaarder belast door onzinnige details, oppervlakkige filosofietjes, gratuite literaire verwijzingen, saaie uitweidingen en andere overbodigheden. (...) Zo samengevat klinkt het allemaal onbenullig en kinderachtig, maar dat is natuurlijk flauw. (...) 1q84, het moet me van het hart, is zonde van de tijd." - Pieter Steinz, NRC Handelsblad
- "As this bleak fairy tale unfolds, lacking contours except the constant promise of a happy ending, a different kind of music from the usual Murakami riffs seems to assert itself. (...) Murakami, now 62, has ceased being a novelist and has entered the dangerous world of literary phenomenon, a cult figure himself. None of this should affect the book itself, of course, except that the writing sometimes seems half-conscious of its advance noise, believing the hype. In its overblown complexity and constant arch reference points to other works in the author's canon, it can read like a stubborn effort to write the definitive Murakami, the Great Japanese Novel. While there is generally plenty to keep your foot tapping along the way, the result is that too many notes and digressions feel forced or fall flat." - Tim Adams, The Observer
- "La primera parte de la novela tiende a ser bastante ralentizada, como si de una novela japonesa tradicional se tratara, pero en la segunda parte se remonta, sin perder una cierta morosidad que no decae ni siquiera en los momentos más críticos, y que en lugar de contribuir al realismo de la historia la llena de irrealidad. (...) Hasta ahora me había gustado Murakami, pero es el problema de los escritores demasiado endiosados: acaban creyendo que todo lo que sale de su cerebro es palabra de Dios." - Jesús Ferrero, El País
- "The condensing of three volumes into a single tome makes for some careless repetition, and casual readers may feel that what actually occurs doesnít warrant such length. But Murakamiís fans know that his focus has always been on the quiet strangeness of life, the hidden connections between perfect strangers, and the power of the non sequitur to reveal the associative strands that weave our modern world. 1Q84 goes further than any Murakami novel so far, and perhaps further than any novel before it, toward exposing the delicacy of the membranes that separate love from chance encounters, the kind from the wicked, and reality from what people living in the pent-up modern world dream about when they go to sleep under an alien moon." - Publishers Weekly
- "(W)hile his early novels took their (often perplexing) structure from dream logic, 1Q84 is a book about wanting to wake up. Thereís still plenty of weirdness along the way. (...) This is not great writing by conventional literary standards. Murakami isnít afraid of repetition, outright cliche" - Laura Miller, Salon
- "1Q84 is a tremendous accomplishment. It does every last blessed thing a masterpiece is supposed to -- and a few things we never even knew to expect." - Andrew Ervin, San Francisco Chronicle
- "In some respects, 1Q84 is a thrilling journey, though it certainly takes its time to ratchet up the excitement -- it didnít truly grip me until 450 pages in (.....) I wondered, too, about the quality of the writing, which throughout seems dismayingly thin. (...) It is regrettable to see such a wonderful novelist abandon all but the very broadest effects." - Philip Hensher, The Spectator
- "Murakami är en effektiv berättare, om än ingen större språkkonstnär. (...) Jag kan inte påstå att 1Q84 är något mästerverk. Men jag gillar den. Den är spännande och underhållande, bitvis rent magisk. Som alla bra sagor väcker den förundran över tillvarons mysterium." - Fabian Kastner, Svenska Dagbladet
- "There are several different novels intertwining here, creating a disorienting effect that invites giddiness. Those unfamiliar with Murakami would be advised to read some of his earlier work first to acclimatise. For his many devoted fans this will be a heady treat, a nebulous masterpiece with potentially no end (.....) Frequently spectacular, 1Q84 is also too long." - Chris Flynn, Sydney Morning Herald
- "It's difficult to know what to make of much of this material. Certainly there are moments of extraordinary and disturbing beauty (.....) Likewise the book also boasts sequences of real emotional power, in particular the scenes surrounding the death of Tengo's father. Yet despite such moments, there are many more scenes that seem irrelevant or frustratingly oblique (even the book's connection to its putative forebear, 1984, is tenuous at best). Of course to say this is, at least to some extent, to miss the point." - James Bradley, Sydney Morning Herald
- "In its early chapters, 1Q84 reads like a cross between two other trendy translated authors, Stieg Larsson and Roberto Bolaño. (...) In its bones, this novel is a thriller. (...) The action-flick style works in tandem with rose-tinted romance. (...) It is possible to enjoy 1Q84 even as the sense grows that a publishing event and a literary event may not be the same thing. Murakamiís riffs and similes end up with a lot of work to do." - Anthony Cummins The Telegraph
- "(I)tís an enormously readable (if oppressively slow) novel that offers a narrative experience few other authors could achieve. But it is also a depressing, dark, morally questionable book that suggests the author has lost his way. (...) Murakami has always brought together high and low culture, but the blend in this novel is queasier than it has ever been before. (...) (W)hen, after 900 pages of crepuscular sex scenes alternated with sentimental thoughts about adolescent sexuality, the novel turns out to be a shaggy dog story, it no longer seems a guilty pleasure but instead a tremendous waste of the readerís time." - Matt Thorne, The Telegraph
- "Murakamiís new novel, 1Q84, mixes long, tranquillized passages of inaction and reflection with sudden, almost hallucinogenic moments of brutality. The nature and logic of these events are never fully apparent, since, as ever, Murakami prefers to leave the viscera of his story hidden (.....) 1Q84 is a novel about stories enveloping people. For many of its characters, these stem from childhood traumas that have variously dictated and distorted their lives. (...) It is disappointing, then, that the main failures of 1Q84 are rather mechanical." - Ben Jeffery, Times Literary Supplement
- "Heb ik mij verveeld ? Geen moment, al was de neiging groot om Murakami's dickensiaanse breedsprakigheid cursorisch te consumeren. Niet onvermeld mag nog blijven dat 1q84 ook een komisch boek is." - Jeroen Vullings, Vrij Nederland
- "Mr. Murakami's infinite patience in revealing the secret connections between Tengo's and Aomame's lives has the benefit of charging quite banal scenes with an aura of unearthly import. But it can also seem stubbornly vague, as many of the novel's most nagging questions are left unanswered. (...) The unpredictability of Mr. Murakami's inventions is constantly offset by the dullness of his prose. One of the most purely negative consequences of his rupture with tradition is his indifference to trying to write with anything approaching beauty. (...) Yet if you can soldier through the prose and some rather tremendous longueurs, you'll find genuine wisdom and emotional depth in 1Q84. Mr. Murakami has gone further here to develop the sensations of loss and isolation than in his previous novels, which seldom went much beyond paranoia and self-pity." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
- "(Y)ouíll be glad that Knopf decided to bring out the English version as a single massive hardcover: Once you start reading 1Q84, you wonít want to do much else until youíve finished it. (...) Despite its great length, Murakamiís novel is tightly plotted, without fat, and he knows how to make dialogue, even philosophical dialogue, exciting." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
- "1Q84, dessen dritter und längster Teil noch der Übersetzung harrt, während von einem vierten gemunkelt wird, ist nicht nur in quantitativer Hinsicht ein Opus Maximum. Der inzwischen einundsechzigjährige Murakami schlägt hier den Bogen über die Generationen hinweg" - Ulrich Baron, Die Welt
- "Fast ist es, als hätte sich in einer Zeit, in der unablässig die Antiquiertheit von Literatur und gedruckten Büchern beklagt wird, jemand vorgenommen, beweisen zu wollen, wie wirkungsvoll sich so etwas Altmodisches wie ein Roman noch in die Seelen von Menschen eingraben kann. Die Geschichte, mit der Murakami das gelingt, ist hochgradig seltsam." - Peter Praschl, Welt am Sonntag
- "Diese innere und äußere Leere der Figuren, in deren verborgenem Zentrum gleichwohl eine unmögliche shakespearesche Liebesillusion lodert, hat hohen Wiedererkennungswert für den westlichen Leser. Sie verbreitet die Stimmung steriler Geborgenheit und angeregter Desillusion, die jener zum Verwechseln ähnlich ist, in der es sich in der westlichen Welt im Allgemeinen ganz kommod leben lässt. (...) Das eher grob als subtil angelegte literarische Spiel mit überirdischen Schicksalsmächten und unerklärlichen Kräften parodiert und imitiert auch so die alten weltenordnenden und sinnstiftenden Qualitäten großer Literatur." - Iris Radisch, Die Zeit
Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers.
Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.
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The complete review's Review:
Note: part one of this review is based on the German translation (by Ursula Gräfe) of volumes one and two of 1Q84 and was written and posted 24 December 2010; the second part of this review -- and some emendations to the first part -- was added 20 October 2011 and is based on the English translation (which includes volume three)
The first two parts of 1Q84 are presented in alternating chapters, switching between describing events in the lives of the two main characters, Aomame and Tengo.
Both are about thirty years old.
Aomame was born to Jehovah's Witnesses but abandoned that faith and has no contact with her family and no real friends; always athletic, she works as a massage therapist (and is very good at her job) but has few outside interests.
Occasionally she will pick up a man to have sex with, but she has no interest in a long-term relationship; she connected, briefly, with a boy twenty years earlier and believes that he is what amounts to be the love of her life, and that they are destined to be together -- but she has never even made an effort to find him again (believing, instead, that destiny will sort things out).
Tengo is a would-be writer who teaches part-time; if not exactly unambitious he is certainly willing to bide his time, satisfied with the simple life he leads, working on his own writing but in no great rush to make a great splash in the literary world.
He was raised by his father -- a door-to-door collector of broadcast license fees (the Japanese equivalent of the BBC's television licence [for US readers: in most nations owners of televisions pay a mandatory annual 'license fee' subsidizing national/public television stations]) -- with whom he did not get along very well, and he became fairly independent at an early age.
Mathematically very gifted, he nevertheless decided to turn to writing.
A relative loner (typical of so many Murakami protagonists), Tengo also does not have a circle of close friends.
His one steady relationship is with a 'girlfriend' of sorts, an older married woman he gets together with weekly pretty much solely to have sex with, an arrangement that suits both of them.
Some two decades earlier a girl at school had taken Tengo's hand and held it, an experience that remains vivid in his memory as a deep connection with another human being that he has not felt since; as eventually is made clear, that girl was Aomame.
That he still thinks of her, and that he has not found (or sought out) any other woman to be part of his life suggests that these two are, indeed, meant for one another.
Part one of 1Q84 covers the months April through June, while part two covers July through September.
The year is 1984 -- until it's not, as both protagonists find themselves shifted into another very similar but not identical world, 1Q84 [in Japanese '9' is pronounced as 'q' is in English (it can be transliterated as: 'kyu'); the Dutch translation of the novel has the title as 1q84, which seems a more effective way of conveying the similarity in languages that use the Latin-alphabet, but the US/UK publishers have also opted for a capitalized 'Q' (as the Japanese original also has it as)]
Aomame is the one who enters this alternate-reality first -- warned as she (unknowingly) is about to enter it that "things are not what they seem", but also that she should remember that there is always only one reality (something she is also reminded of later on: Murakami emphasizes that this is not a parallel world, but rather the one and only -- albeit a different one from that which Aomame (and some of the other characters) previously inhabited).
Aomame senses some slight difference immediately, but it takes her a while to get her bearings.
The differences are small -- the guns the police are wearing is what strikes her immediately (and the only major visible difference is with the moon: Aomame now sees a second one along with the familiar one in the sky) -- and life seems much the same.
But, of course, Aomame finds herself on a new path: her world has changed, and with it her destiny has been set in motion.
Methodical and careful, Aomame tries to work out what has happened.
She cannot explain it (though eventually it is, more or less, explained to her), but decides the fault lies with the world, not her (i.e. she's not losing her mind).
Her survival instincts kick in, and she figures that all she can do is try to (carefully) adapt to this new set of circumstances -- like an animal that suddenly finds itself in a strange forest.
She designates it 1Q84 -- 'Q for question mark', in this case.
Tengo's path to 1Q84 -- and/or his realization that that is where he is -- is a more delayed one.
He works closely with a literary editor, Komatsu, and one of his jobs is going through manuscripts submitted for a first-work writing prize.
One of the submissions this year is by a seventeen-year-old girl writing under the name of 'Fuka-Eri' called Air Chrysalis (空気さなぎ -- 'The Pupa of Air').
Komatsu thinks it is very promising, but requires some polish, and he suggests that Tengo do the polishing -- and that the novel be submitted for the prestigious Akutagawa Prize (which, he's sure, it will win).
It would be a literary sensation -- and, of course, sell very well.
Tengo has his doubts that this can be pulled off, but he's willing to consider it.
The girl's short novel is introduced first largely in the abstract, Komatsu noting what he perceives as its many errors (from the author mistaking 'pupa' for 'cocoon' in the title, to the catastrophic grammar), and only then are the contents revealed, first in summary form and then finally (some nine hundred pages into [the German edition of] 1Q84 ...) in a detailed retelling of the story.
It is a bizarre tale that sounds like allegorical science fiction, about a ten-year-old girl living in an isolated community -- a cult, essentially --, largely cut off from the world and governed by strict rules.
There she encounters the mysterious but powerful 'Little People' (リトル・ピープル in the original Japanese -- i.e. Murakami uses the English words/pronunciation, rather than Japanese equivalent), as well as the 'air chrysalis' which they construct and which proves a bit too close for comfort for her, leading her to flee the community.
(There are also other striking aspects to the novel, such as the two moons that appear in the sky .....)
Tengo meets with Fuka-Eri to discuss Komatsu's plan and see if she is willing to go along with it.
The affectless teenager is an unusual character, showing little emotion and unable to engage in normal social intercourse; she is also dyslexic (it turns out she dictated rather than wrote the novel) -- and hardly the image of an aspiring writer (indeed, she seems to have little interest in being an author, or achieving any sort of fame).
It soon becomes clear, however, that Air Chrysalis is based on her own experiences: for one, she escaped such a cult when she was ten years old.
As to the 'Little People', it's hard top think of them as anything more than allegorical creations, and Tengo can't get anything approaching a clear answer as to their identity.
The first part of 1Q84, April through June, covers the period when Tengo is involved with this re-writing project, leading to the publication of Fuka-Eri's novella -- and its becoming an overnight sensation.
Tengo is worried that under the inevitable scrutiny he (and Fuka-Eri) will be caught up in a great scandal, as journalists will surely discover how the book was a sort of team-effort.
And, indeed, publication of the book does set quite a bit in motion -- though press scrutiny turns out to be the least of it.
Rather, it's clear the book hits a bit too close to home elsewhere, as Tengo comes to realize that it also serves another purpose, as Fuka-Eri's guardian for the past seven years sees it as an opportunity to strike at the cult Fuka-Eri escaped from -- and where her parents apparently still remain (though they never tried to contact him, or her, the whole time).
And the 'Little People', whatever they are, aren't too happy either.
Throughout the first part of of 1Q84, Aomame's life is on a completely separate track.
Aside from her work as a massage therapist she does have a secret life of sorts: she has been enlisted by an old and very rich woman who helps women who have suffered domestic violence and abuse -- as a hit-man, of sorts.
Using her detailed knowledge of the human body Aomame is able to kill in a way that makes the death look natural, and occasionally she is called upon to do so, with the worst of offenders.
In these months one of the truly worst comes to the old woman's attention: a secretive cult leader who raped a ten-year old girl (which the old woman takes in and hopes to help)
, and who has apparently raped other pre-pubescent girls as well.
Well-protected and almost never appearing in public, this cult-leader is almost impossible to reach, but the old woman eventually has a plan, and Aomame's assassination attempt on this 'Leader' is the what dominates the second part of 1Q84.
Going through with the murder would mean abandoning her old life, even changing her appearance and name.
The old woman can arrange most everything, but Aomame likely will be hunted for the rest of her days by the cult if she manages to kill their leader.
It seems worth it to her: she doesn't have much to leave behind.
The plan is set in motion, though she soon finds that the forces she has to face are greater and different than expected.
Fuka-Eri's book has set a great deal in motion, and if the powers that are disturbed by it can't directly attack some of the main actors they can still cause havoc.
Aomame had made a friend in the previous months, a policewoman dissatisfied with the limited role she has on the force (writing traffic tickets) and who also enjoys occasionally seeking out men for sex just like Aomame does, but that budding friendship is violently torn asunder.
(Similarly, Tengo's married friend and sex-partner suddenly disappears from his life.)
The plan to kill the leader proceeds -- leading to an assassination-scene that covers several chapters and many pages.
Aomame was warned right at the start of the story that things are rarely what they seem, and in confronting the 'Leader' she sees how very true that is.
It's a fascinating (if at times almost ridiculous) drawn-out encounter (in a novel that is full of drawn-out scenes); among other things, Aomame learns of Fuka-Eri's novel (she'd heard of it -- not surprising, given all the press coverage -- but not read it (indeed, one of the first things we learned about Aomame was that she almost never reads novels)) and Tengo's role in writing it -- the first tangible evidence of Tengo she's had in decades.
Aomame also learns that the 'Leader' has, indeed, brutally violated ten-year-old girls, but even this is not as straightforward as it originally seemed.
Tengo, meanwhile, also has to deal with some of the fallout from the novel.
He's particularly disturbed by a very generous offer of a sort of 'fellowship' for writers made to him by the sleazy Ushikawa, who claims he's a representative of some mysterious foundation.
Ushikawa hints that he knows more about the book (and Tengo) than is public, and is vaguely threatening: Tengo perceives the offer as being an attempt to buy him off (without being sure what is being bought off).
He repeatedly turns down the offer, despite Ushikawa becoming more insistent (and threatening).
[Note that Ushikawa is a considerably more prominent figure in book three of 1Q84.]
Meanwhile, Fuka-Eri has disappeared -- gone into hiding, which, of course, attracts yet more press attention.
(The editor Komatsu also disappears, rather more mysteriously.)
Fuka-Eri does resurface, but only for Tengo, and he tries to protect her -- though who exactly is protecting whom is unclear: Fuka-Eri seems to have a much better idea of what is going than in-the-dark Tengo.
Fuka-Eri is with Tengo when Aomame undertakes her assassination attempt, and Murakami nicely contrasts the odd happenings in the two different locales in those chapters (coming with two climaxes ...).
Tengo and Aomame come into closer and closer proximity (and begin to become aware of each other's presence), but still have great forces to deal with (those 'Little People' can wreak a lot of havoc).
In book two of 1Q84 Tengo also goes to visit -- for the first time in ages -- his father, who is in a retirement facility suffering from dementia.
(It's striking throughout the novel how the main characters lose, one way or another, almost all the people they have been in closer contact with or were connected to -- by the end there are almost no more human bonds left for Tengo and Aomame.)
His father does not recognize or acknowledge Tengo as his son, but is otherwise still relatively lucid when Tengo first visits.
His father asks him to read him something, and Tengo opts for the story he had been reading on his way there, a creepy fantastical short story called 'The Town of Cats', from an anthology of travel-writing.
The story is ascribed to some German writer ('whose name he had never heard of') from between the two World Wars, but Japanese readers will immediately recognize the obvious similarities to Sakutaro Hagiwara's (萩原 朔太郎) 1935 novella, 'Cat Town' (猫町).
Murakami recounts the story fairly closely -- and does so again when Tengo later recounts it for Fuka-Eri, who latches onto the central idea because it too involves an alternate sort of reality, a place that exists separate from the 'real' world (and in which the story's protagonist finds himself lost).
[This episode is available as Town of Cats in The New Yorker.]
Fuka-Eri then uses the idea to explain to Tengo that they, too, are dealing with a sort of 'Town of Cats'.
Piecing together information about the cult run by the 'Leader' and from which Fuka-Eri escaped when she was ten is difficult.
Both Tengo and Aomame attempt to do so over the course of the novel, but very little is publicly available, and it is only eventually that they are able to piece together some of its fundamental beliefs.
Murakami employs this vagueness well throughout the novel -- especially the sinister 'Little People', appearing first as fiction-within-fiction, with then their powers (but little of their essence) slowly revealed.
It's mystical science fiction of sorts, and some of it can get annoying (what the 'Leader' knows and is aware of seems inexplicably too good to be true, for example), but on the whole Murakami does this sort of thing very well.
1Q84 builds up very slowly; as in many Murakami novels, characters seem to just be biding their time for long stretches.
Nevertheless, there's a tension that builds up, too, and it's impressive how Murakami is able to ratchet it up slowly but inexorably.
The slow addition of piece after piece, and even the lengthy digressions -- such as the episodes of Tengo visiting his father, or recalling his youth -- make for a narrative that builds up surprising steam.
If, after two volumes, still inconclusive, the end is nevertheless quite satisfying (though it puts a lot of pressure on where-can-he-take-it-from-here and volume three ...).
There are many repeated and echoed scenes and images in 1Q84.
The doubled moon is only the most prominent of them, but Murakami also takes the time to allow his character's reflections and obsessions to unfold (often re-examining these from a variety of angles, and at a variety of different times): both Tengo and Aomame's youths are repeatedly revisited, from the hand-holding scene to Tengo's jarring memory of another man at his mother's breast (the mother who abandoned him).
Murakami doesn't rush through anything -- most obviously in the assassination-scene, which seems to go on forever (and yet still works surprisingly well) -- and this patience pays off; amazingly, despite the seemingly slow and deliberate pace, 1Q84 is, through and through, a thriller (and reads like one).
This is a books that one can sink into and lose oneself in -- an other-worldly experience like visiting the 'City of Cats' ...
With much left unresolved and unfinished, and a few too many open questions, 1Q84 -- in its first two volumes -- remains a (very large) fragment.
Occasionally too simple or plodding in its prose, and unnecessarily repetitive in spelling out some things, 1Q84 is nevertheless a great achievement.
One hesitates to call it Murakami's best until the final version is available (aside from the completed but untranslated third volume Murakami apparently might be working on a fourth), but it seems to me at least the equal of anything he's produced to date.
- M.A.Orthofer, 24 December 2010
Book Three of 1Q84, covering October to December, adds another perspective to the alternating chapters, the narrative moving now not just between Aomame and Tengo but also Ushikawa.
The talented but grotesque-looking disbarred lawyer -- another loner figure who hasn't even seen his kids in ages -- is charged with finding Aomame.
He was the one that had vetted her before allowing her to see the Leader, and since he obviously failed to do that job properly he is determined to make up for his slip.
Aomame is holed up in her safe-house -- interrupted only by the occasional phone call from those protecting her, and an annoying broadcast license fee collector who repeatedly knocks at her door (and who will also haunt Ushikawa).
Tengo spends some more time with his comatose father (a former broadcast license fee collector ...), and finds Fuka-Eri has fled when he returns to Tokyo.
But Fuka-Eri -- both un- and other-worldly -- can take care of herself.
All the while, however, Ushikawa continues his single-minded pursuit, and closes in on Aomame (and Tengo).
'1Q84' remains an unnerving (alternate) reality.
She felt as though she were blindly groping around in the dark.
Ordinary logic and reason didn't function in the 1Q84 world, and she couldn't predict what was going to happen next.
Yet everything works out fairly neatly in this odd reality, larger forces nudging the characters along so that fate plays out as it should.
A writer makes it easy for himself in relying on such an anything-goes pseudo-reality, and even Murakami eventually begins to rely too much on this.
Murakami also immerses would-be writer Tengo entirely in it, as:
The story he was writing began with a world where there were two moons in the sky.
A world of Little People and air chrysalises.
He had borrowed this world from Fuka-Eri's Air Chrysalis but by now it was entirely his own.
As he wrote, his mind was living in that world.
Even when he lay down his pen and stood up from his desk, his mind remained there.
There was a special sensation of his body and his mind beginning to separate, and he could no longer distinguish the real world from the fictional.
Even Uchikawa eventually wonders: What sort of world have I gotten myself into ?
It's Murakami's world, and though he is a master of this universe, and evokes it -- and his characters' destinies -- well, the narrative gets a bit baggy here.
Whereas the drift was entirely satisfying earlier on, here, approaching the end, the looser ends become more of a distraction.
In addition, the central supernatural act in this section is a particularly freighted one (more so in Western society than Japan, however, and it may come across slightly differently there)
By the third book of 1Q84 the story has been reduced almost entirely to will or won't Aomame and Tengo find one another.
There is some sense of urgency, but the time-limits that are set seem almost flexible, with little doubt that one way or another, if they have to, the characters will manage to beat them.
So too with so much else here.
The cult, Sakigake, remains in some turmoil after the loss of their Leader, but that and the fates of most of the other characters that have played roles in the story are, for the most part, cast off along the way; there is a proper conclusion to the novel, but with its shift back into the previous reality of 1984 it is as abrupt as the closing of a book with some of the stories left behind still unfinished.
(Murakami has suggested he might write yet another volume; certainly there is a great deal of material he still has to work with.)
Murakami excels at the personal reactions to and reflections on the mysticism he loads his story with, but this mythology -- of Little People and alternate, two-mooned worlds and all the rest -- can come to feel like a safe, easy fallback position, especially since Murakami offers little explanation of what (if anything) might be behind it all: he simply posits it and plays with it.
His main characters (and several secondary ones) are well drawn and compelling, and Aomame and Tengo's saga is, even at drawn-out length, a rivetting one (though it's surprising that Murakami didn't make the final episodes more suspenseful, taking easy care of most of the threats).
Taken all together, the three volumes of 1Q84 are a very good -- if ultimately not great -- read.
Note: Clearly I was slightly disappointed by volume three, as compared to the first two, and I wonder how much of that has to do with the translations (I read the first two volumes in German, the third as part of the English-language complete edition).
I think it played a relatively large role.
In comparing the translations the one sentence that really struck me comes right near the beginning, when Aomame is in the taxi.
In German what the driver warns her is:
Die Dinge sind meist nicht das, was sie zu sein scheinen
Jay Rubin's translation has it the more absolute:
[Things usually aren't what they appear to be]
things are not what they seem
But that seems far too definite -- and hence too easy -- to me; the atmosphere Murakami creates is exactly one where things usually aren't what they seem, but not always, and its that slight but ever-present sense of uncertainty that adds to the richness of the work.
- M.A.Orthofer, 20 October 2011
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Other books by Murakami Haruki under review:
Books about Murakami Haruki under review:
Other books of interest under review:
- See Index of Japanese literature at the complete review
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About the Author:
Japanese author Murakami Haruki (村上春樹) was born January 12, 1949.
He attended Waseda University.
He has written several internationally acclaimed bestsellers and is among the best-known contemporary Japanese writers.
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