1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Book Quote:

“That’s it. 1984 and 1Q84 are fundamentally the same in terms of how they work. If you don’t believe in the world, and if there is no love in it, then everything is phony. No matter which world we are talking about, no matter what kind of world we are talking about, the line separating fact from hypothesis is practically invisible to the eye. It can only be seen with the inner eye, the eye of the mind.”

Book Review:

Review by Devon Shepherd  (DEC 31, 2011)

Haruki Murakami doesn’t lend himself to easy categorization. Though his prose is spare, almost styleless, it’s more supple than muscular, and though his stories are often occupied with mundane domesticities, they’re also often founded in the surreal. It’s no surprise, then, that Murakami’s long-awaited latest, 1Q84, isn’t easy to shelf –it’s at home among either fantasy, thriller or hard-boiled noir – but one thing’s for sure: this book is grotesquely Murakami. That is, quiet domesticity punctuates adventures tenuously connected to reality, and yet for all its faults – and some have argued there are many – this is a book that haunts you long after you’re done, a book that, like a jealous lover, won’t let you move on.

For all its parallel worlds and magical creatures, for all its anonymous sex and ruthless violence, this is a book about love. The lovers in question, Tengo and Aomame, haven’t seen or spoken to each other in almost 20 years. In fact, they may have never spoken at all. Their shared history is limited to a 5th grade incident during which a ten-year-old Aomame reached for Tengo’s hand – and stilled his soul. But for Tengo, a popular athlete and academic star, to befriend Aomame, a religious freak who stands up and shouts a version of the Lord’s Prayer before she eats lunch, would’ve been social suicide. Aomame transfers schools before Tengo acknowledges to himself what she means to him.

Twenty years pass – it’s 1984 – and Tengo, considered a math prodigy, has frittered away his promise: he teaches math at a Tokyo cram school while moonlighting as a novelist. Though he has weekly sex with a married girlfriend, he still wonders about Aomame.

Disowned by her family for breaking with their church, the Society of Witnesses, Aomame is a lone-wolf. She works as a fitness instructor at a swanky Tokyo gym and although she trolls for wild one-night stands, her heart, after all these years, still belongs to Tengo. As it turns out, she moonlights too –as an assassin. Under the auspices of a wealthy and mysterious dowager, Aomame, with a method of her own invention, kills wife-beaters and rapists.

The Tengo-Aomame attachment – their love itself – is absurd, and this absurdity calls into existence a strange alternative world – 1Q84, the world with a question mark – with a second, “moss-green” moon. Ostensibly, Aomame enters this alternate world, like Alice down the rabbit hole, when she escapes a gridlocked Metropolitan expressway by climbing down an emergency stairwell. But it’s Tengo, in ghost-writing the best-seller, Air Chryaslis, or perhaps in writing a novel of his own, that opens that portal. What has brought Tengo into 1Q84 isn’t entirely clear – although his skill as a storyteller is a factor – but, unbeknownst to the other, both are trapped in 1Q84, a world that becomes increasingly perilous.

When Komatsu, Tengo’s editor, suggests Tengo rewrite a manuscript submission, a fantastical, but compelling story, told in substandard prose, Tengo is hesitant. The author, a strange and beautiful 17-year old girl, who goes by the name of Fuka-Eri, insists that her story, a tale about Little People who emerge from the mouth of a goat and weave wombs out of strands of reality, is true. The Little People use these wombs, or air chrysalises, to gestate doubles, or dohtas. The dohtas act like antennas of sorts, receivers for the perceivers of “the voice.” Fuka-Eri has no literary ambitions and gives Tengo permission to rewrite her work.

But when Air Chrysalis is a runaway hit, a powerful and mysterious cult, Sakigake, is angered. Although most people read the book as fantasy, Sakigake maintains that Fuka-Eri, the estranged daughter of their mysterious Leader, has revealed sacred truths not meant for outsiders. It seems they’ll stop at nothing to halt publication, but when their Leader is found dead, Sakigake must devote itself to finding his murderer.

As it turns out, the Leader is suspected of raping pre-pubescent girls, Fuka-Eri, his daughter, among them. The dowager charges Aomame with dispatching the Leader to “the other side,” but when he demonstrates his supernatural powers, Aomame becomes conflicted and confused. A telepath, the Leader knows Aomame’s intention, but the cost of his great gift is excruciating pain. The Leader welcomes death, and when Aomame hesitates, he bargains with her: his death for Tengo’s life. Unfortunately, killing the Leader will likely mean Aomame’s death too. But, in sacrificing her life for Tengo’s, their connection inexplicably tightens, and the danger Aomame flees inadvertently flings them together.

1Q84 is possible because of faith. It is the belief in love, in something beyond reason, something magical, that creates the metaphysical space for impossibilities to actualize themselves. Born from air chrysalises, dohtas are affectless shadows, without desires or dreams of their own. But we only need look around us, at the “hunched over people carried by force of habit into the new day” to see that it’s all too easy to lose your dreams and desires to the monotony of everyday life, individual passions and secret hopes lost to the roles we play – father, mother, teacher, banker – unaware that if you stop and look up, you might just see two moons. Of course, the real problem, as Tengo and Aomame figure out, is not the revelation of the magical, but how to steal a bit of that wonder up the rabbit hole, to the mundane world of day jobs and traffic jams.

Murakami shirks conventional expectations, refusing to answer the questions he poses and tie his loose ends into pretty little bows. He breaks from craft wisdom – stick to the essentials – with gratuitous descriptions and his characters repeatedly mull over the same plot points. He even challenges Chekov’s famous maxim by introducing a gun that never goes off. But I can’t help but feel that’s the point; life isn’t pared down to essentials, and insofar as our lives have meaning, they’re necessarily narratives, stories just as mundane – and hopefully just as magical, if not as fantastical – as this one.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 514 readers
PUBLISHER: Knopf; First Edition edition (October 25, 2011)
REVIEWER: Devon Shepherd
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Haruki Murakami
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
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December 31, 2011 · Judi Clark · One Comment
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Literary, Noir, Scifi, World Lit

One Response

  1. bjunior - January 6, 2012

    Fantastic review! I’m going to start reading this tonight.

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