Written by Sian Cain
1Q84 is Murakami’s homage to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. Do not read this book expecting an exact retelling of 1984. Though 1Q84 is set in the year 1984, it is strictly an interpretation of Orwell’s tale and shares only a few common themes- the fragility of human freedom, an oppressive totalitarian presence and a star-crossed love story. Otherwise, 1Q84 is Murakami’s story and arguably, his magnum opus. If you are going to read one Murakami book, it should be this one.
1Q84 manages to be both a romance and a surreal ‘thriller’ for want of a better word- Murakami is fantastic at making the most innocuous scenes incredibly tense. 1Q84 shifts between the stories of a man, Tengo, and a woman, Aomame, whose lives were once intertwined as children.
Tengo is a semi-successful novelist who becomes involved in a scheme to ghostwrite another author’s short story for a competition. The original author is a beautiful and mysterious 17-year-old girl with limited literary skills and the editor wants her to become his next literary sensation. The repercussions of this agreement become more dangerous than realized.
Meanwhile, Aomame is in a taxi, caught in a traffic jam on the way to an important meeting. The taxi driver presents her with an ultimatum; stay in the taxi and miss the appointment, or get out of the taxi and get there on time, but her life will be changed forever. Aomame, disquieted, but in a rush, gets out and walks.
Aomame is the most interesting and unique characters I have read in a long time. What her job is and what happens when she gets to her ‘meeting’ is the most exhilarating plot line in the book.
Murakami’s distinctive blend of surrealism and realism often dominates his novels to the point that you lose contact with the plot and just go along with the ride. I am an unashamed huge Murakami fan. It is the unique combination of the fantastical and reality that makes his books so addictive. In Kafka On The Shore there were talking cats and fish raining from the sky, in A Wild Sheep Chase a man searches for a sheep that technically shouldn’t exist on Earth, and in The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, it is possible to enter different worlds by falling into a meditative-like state in the bottom of wells. The main antagonist in the 1Q84 trilogy is the Little People (Big Brother in Orwell’s 1984). What these people do and are is one of the biggest and most enticing secrets in the book so I shall not elaborate. Needless to say, things get weird.
1Q84 has been a long time in the making for Haruki Murakami fans, both inside and outside of his native Japan. In three volumes and just under 1000 pages long, 1Q84 is Murakami’s biggest undertaking and the first book to have official sequels. Because of this, 1Q84 is more plot-driven than Murakami’s previous works. Generally, I struggle to describe the plotlines of Murakami books to readers who have yet to pick up one of his books (anyone who has read Murakami will be nodding wisely at this point).
Some readers find the lack of answers and clear conclusions in Murakami novels irritating. Others find this open-endedness intriguing and the freedom of interpretation appealing. 1Q84 is no different. You will not leave this book with all answers answered and all boxes ticked. Personally, I find the level of interpretation irresistible, because it leaves room for his characters to move after you close the book and leaves you with an odd sense of possibility and foreboding.
1Q84 is ultimately a fantastical and bizarre exploration of humanity, filled with intrigue, family ties, violence and a unique romance between characters that barely interact. You will never read a book like this again.
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