Book Review: '1Q84' by Haruki Murakami

BooksKristina Pino2 Comments

After reading 1Q84, I am inclined to believe that I couldn't have introduced myself to Haruki Murakami's work in a better way.

Almost every review I saw from a bigger publication mentioned that the book was pretty much an overnight sensation (instant bestseller), and I believe it. At almost 1,000 pages, it's definitely a time and dedication investment on the part of the reader, but I can promise you one thing: from the get-go, you will not be bored at all. Every page leads fluidly to the next.

Romantic and mysterious at the same time, the book is about a woman called Aomame who is pulled into a parallel world with two moons in the year 1984 (in reference to Orwell's book). She gets sucked into something big, which leads to her eventual reunion with Tengo, a boy she had loved since childhood and is somehow also transported to this other world as another player in the plot. It's hard to explain a lot of the fantastical or mysterious points in the story without giving plot points away, and given that 1Q84 is still relatively new, I'll leave my summary at that. The experience you have while reading the book and getting little bits and pieces of information at a time is important and helps you relate to the characters better. At least, I think so.

I do have much to say on other points, though. For one thing, I wanted to talk about the style and translation. If you have knowledge of the structure of Japanese language and a general idea of their customs, you'll notice right away how beautifully precise the wording is in the novel. It still has the feel of the original script and nuance. The author also employs repetitive descriptions for each character (this is done with great care) in order to be sure the reader is never confused with names, or needing to flip back earlier in the book to look up references for people they encounter.

In terms of the general structure of the book, 1Q84 mostly alternates between Aomame and Tengo from chapter to chapter. It is divided into three parts which span over the course of one year, and it isn't until the third chunk when a third character is added to the mix for added perspective.

The first section is a bit slow, and I don't mean that it was boring or that it dragged. Murakami spends a lot of time setting up the characters and giving you a feel for their surroundings. The last few chapters of section one then drop just enough information that makes you start trying to read faster. The problem with trying to speed through this book though, is you can't. I found myself stumbling over sentences and having to re-read things when I tried to rush it too much. It is clear that 1Q84 is meant to be enjoyed at a relaxed pace. It deserves your time and attention.

Section two is much more fast paced and full of information. Granted, it's information that won't make much sense until it is explored in section three, but nonetheless it will challenge you to set the book down for any extended period. It moves the plot along at an unbelievable pace compared with what you previously read, but leaves the characters in plenty of peril to lead into the last part.

Section three kept me on edge more than anything else. It was more informational and it led gradually to a satisfying end of the story. Yes, folks. While tragic in places, 1Q84 actually does have a positive ending that left me smiling and cheering for the main characters. That is, it ends positively after lots of close calls and a change in tone on the part of the author/narrator. Previously, we only read what was generally in the perspective of the character each chapter focused on. Part three however had a bit of extra information added in so the reader could place each event in separate chapters in time with others, and very precisely.

(Example: If Tamaru had not called Aomame at precisely [that time] and she had been watching the playground instead, she would have seen Tengo and rushed out, only to be seen by Ushikawa who had been following him. This isn't in quotes because it isn't an exact replication of the text, but the situation was later spelled out in this way. He might as well have said, "...but little did she know... Ushikawa was lurking in the bushes!")

The last point I have about 1Q84 is about its physical presentation. The photographs and arrangement for the hardback and dust cover, along with the first few pages on either side and those in between sections are beautiful. The type and the page number arrangement (it's actually in a pattern rather than having a standard spot for the numbers) are attractive and easy to read. The paper is thick and smooth, and the book just feels overall great. The only complaint I have is the physical hard cover seems a bit... flimsy. The novel is enormous, almost 1000 pages as I mentioned before, and I don't think it could manage to stay together for too long. I had the book twisting and sagging on me while reading, and I'm afraid after it has been handled by a few other people or read a couple more times, it might start coming apart. If there is one thing I'd change about it, it'd be to either make it three separate novels packaged together or thicken the cover so it stays intact longer.

All that being said, I can see why 1Q84 made it to so many top fiction lists for the year 2011 (Kirkus, Good Reads and more). I'm happy to have read it and will recommend it to anyone that is willing to give it a try. Don't let the sheer size of the novel keep you away: Murakami will carry you along gently and leave you feeling good. At parts, you might have "reader's paranoia," and feel like you've "seen too much." I had more than my fair share of moments where I've looked up to the sky to check that there was still just one moon hanging in there.

If anything, reading 1Q84 also made me want to explore more of Murakami's work. If it's all as well translated as this novel is, and equally as intriguing or gripping, I am interested. I was invested in Aomame as a character right from the beginning, and I can only imagine that I'll get attached to any character he brings to life.

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[full front, back and spine image of the cover via]