I finished Haruki Murakami’s new novel 1Q84 a few weeks ago and I have been letting it settle in my brain for a while before I wrote about it. Clocking in at over 950 pages, 1Q84 will take time to read. Luckily, it is time well spent and it is a thoroughly enjoyable story. 1Q84 takes place is a Tokyo in 1984 and follows the lives of the two protagonists, Aomame and Tengo. Murakami alternates the chapters between Aomame and Tengo. Their stories are intertwined although the reader is unsure how or even why. Like Murakami’s other books, this book could be categorized as magical realism. (If you are not acquainted with that term think about books/stories like The Metamorphosis, Beloved, The Master and Margarita, and The Alchemist. These are story’s that take place in the real world, our world, but yet are intruded upon by the supernatural (Beloved and The Master and Margarita), unexplained events (The Metamorphosis), or with the bending, merging of realities (1Q84).) For some people this isn’t their cup of tea, but I find that books of this ilk can be both incredibly entertaining and packed with meaning.
Tengo is a typical Murakami male character and almost a stereotype of a Japanese male: introspective, honorable, and taciturn. (In some ways he is very similar to Toru Okada from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.) Tengo, like Toru, is a lackluster 30 year old who has enormous potential (he’s a brilliant mathematician, martial artist, writer, and pretty much anything he puts his mind to) but yet hasn’t quite found his niche in the world. He teaches math part-time and in the other time he is an aspiring novelist. At both he excels but not too much, and he seems content to just slog along in his life. Aomame, on the other hand, has her life mostly figured out. She’s a physical trainer at a high-class Tokyo gym and in her spare time assassinates men who have repeatedly and harshly beaten their wives. For the most part she likes her life and she is very good at her chosen professions.
For the first few hundred pages Murakami is content to let the reader get to know the various characters, and slowly but surely set up the story. Very early on the reality between 1984 and 1Q84 become inter-meshed and you spend large swaths of time, like the characters, not sure which reality is which. The story lines come crashing together, however, around the end of the second book, about 600 pages in, and before that you are left to wonder how these people are connected. But by the end of the second book many questions are answered (although there are still a lot of loose ends, more on that later). In the third book Murakami adds another character to the book, the tenacious and vile Ushikawa. Alternating between the three, the book alters slightly is style from the previous two, as Ushikawa is investigating Tengo and Aomame trying to find out what we already know. All while Aomame and Tengo are trying to find resolution for their prior actions before Ushikawa can find them.
That’s about as much into the plot I can get without giving out any significant spoilers. Throughout the book though Murakami touches on a number of themes, but for me the major themes were: the negative effects of religion on people (I take it as religion as a whole while others think just he’s only speaking about cults, but in reality the only difference between cults and religions is popularity and societal acceptance), relationships (father-son and family-friends), and love. It took me about a month to read this book (around two hours a day on my commute to and from work) and that it was a very enjoyable time. I loved the story line, the characters, and being immersed in this world. Then again I like long books. Especially, if the authors are good about keeping the story going and not dragging it along. This book is a prime example of how to do that. I was never bored or skipped forward and I actually missed my stop on the train a few times because I was so immersed. As I mentioned above the story ends with some loose ends, which I think is fine because the major questions are resolved, but if you like every little story line explained in full and wrapped up with a little bow, then well you might get agitated at the end.
Lastly, I checked this book out on my kindle but there was no way I’d finish it in 3 weeks so I turned off my WiFi and was able to make it to the end. So if you have a kindle and ever check out a book on it just turn off your WiFi and you won’t have to worry about the book disappearing before you’re done.