1Q84 is a novel by Haruki Murakami, published in 2009 in Japan and in 2011 in the English Language. The Japanese edition was originally published in three volumes. The book is very long, stretching to over 900 pages in the English edition. The title of the work is a reference to George Orwell's 1984, with the pun being more apparent in Japanese.
Those familiar with the works of Haruki Murakami will not be surprised by this book, since it consists of many of the characters, settings and plots that are familiar from many or most of his other books. Is there an intelligent, mild-mannered protagonist who wants to listen to classical music and cook, but is caught up in sinister and unexplained mysteries? Oh yes there is. Are there wealthy, powerful people with hidden agendas that communicate mostly through intermediaries? Yes! Are there people trapped with strange afflictions that are never quite explained? Indeed! In some ways, after reading this book, it was like Murakami's earlier works were just warm-ups for this. Even The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle seems to be shorter, simpler and less epic compared to this.
The book is told from the viewpoint of two main characters, later introducing one other character.
- Aomame Masami is a personal trainer who moonlights as an assassin of abusive men.
- Tengo Kawana is a cram school teacher with literary aspirations, who is talked into ghost writing a novel written by a dyslexic girl.
- Ushikawa, a more minor character, is still given the status of having the novel narrated from his viewpoint in the third part. He is an ugly and morally challenged, yet intelligent and perceptive private investigator.
The core plot of the book (and if you plan to read the book, don't read past this point) involves Tengo ghost-writing a book written by a girl raised in a cult. The book, seemingly a work of fantasy, actually details the control of the cult by a group of "Little People", magical yet sinister beings. At the same time, Aomame is hired to assassinate the leader of the cult because he has been ritually raping young girls. Since the cult is powerful, both of them run afoul of it, and the intrigues and action as the battle takes place on a physical and supernatural level takes up most of the book. Also, all of this takes place in a parallel world, which Aomame enters into in the first chapter of the book by walking down an emergency staircase off the expressway. And any more description I would try to make of the plot would get into kudzu territory, giving away too much while explaining little.
But when you make it to the last page of the book, you might be wondering: so what was that all about. The title of the book is a reference to 1984, so is this book a commentary on totalitarianism? How does that tie in with its fantastic elements, such as the secondary moon lying in the sky? What about all the other literary references thrown in, to Anton Chekhov and Marcel Proust? What to make of Aomame's background as a Jehovah's Witness? What does Aomame's career as an assassin tell us about the connection between violence and morality? What about the obviously Freudian biographical details of Tengo? What about the references to Carl Jung and Shadows? What about any other number of things detailing everything from Japanese consumer society in the 1980s to the existence of God? All of these objects are brought up, but none of them are concluded.
There are two explanations for why the novel would be written that way. Is it a shaggy dog story? Is Murakami playing a joke, or incompetent? I think not. I think that given Murakami's knowledge of literature and his past works, he has very deliberately made this book what it is, a mixture of fantasy and crime noir that raises many questions...that in fact, might raise just about every question that is important in modern society, and then, after wending its way through their facets, finally gives them all to the reader to decide upon.
Whether that is a worthwhile thing to do, and whether that is enjoyable for the reader, is a matter of taste. Personally, I liked it, and even the slow or dense parts of the book interested me. But obviously a 900 plus page book with a variety of confusing aspects is not what everyone would choose to read. But I will suggest to people who doubt that they challenge themselves to read this book. Although the road might not be straight, it will take you interesting places.