Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 – Review? Recommendation?

Today I finished reading Haruki Murakami’s “1Q84”. It’s a solid brick of a novel that took me nearly four days to finish.

I have to say, I enjoyed it immensely. I’ve been a fan of his writing since I first discovered it – there is something intensely Japanese about it and I can’t help wondering if people who haven’t lived here could really appreciate – the seasons in Tokyo, the subtle meanings, the sense of directionlessness and paralysis and apathy. I love Murakami’s brand of “mystical realism” (for lack of a better term): the sense that reality is a series of laminated planes, that even distinct realities are not separate.

1Q84, in case you don’t speak Japanese, is a play on the Japanese pronunciation of 1984 – “i-kyuu-hachi-yon”. The novel is set in the eponymous* year, and begins by telling the story of Aomame, a young woman who climbs down an emergency exit from a highway and into a different reality. Somewhere close by and far away, Tengo, a math teacher at a cram school, is approached by an editor to rewrite an extraordinary work of fiction by a seventeen-year-old girl.

Haruki Murakami weaves these apparently unrelated stories in a masterful way, revealing the bigger picture bit by bit. It’s strange and fantastical and full of backstory, and always just a little bit obscure (very Japanese), as though reminding the reader that sometimes you just have to take things as they are. The characters are generally pretty three-dimensional, but again I wonder if having lived here is a shortcut to being able to see them as people.

Interestingly, my edition had a series of “questions for discussion” – I can’t find any indication that it’s a scholar’s edition, so I frankly find that pretty weird and slightly distasteful, as though they’re already assuming that the reader is too thick to figure out the novel without a series of “What do you think the author means when he says…” type of questions. Maybe it’s for bookclubs – I’ve never been a member of any.

But altogether, I’d say it was a good book, possibly even one of his better ones. Maybe even one of his best. It has the strange unreality of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, the occasion grit and menace of After Dark, the deep characterizations of Kafka on the Shore and the sweet sentimentality of Norwegian Wood, almost like everything else he’s ever written has been practice for this. I liked the pacing – sometimes frustratingly slow, but even that slowness is appropriate. And when the time comes for the denouement, he brings it all together quite nicely.

I’d definitely recommend it if you’ve liked his other stuff. Well worth the effort!

* I used a fancy word in a sentence! Always wanted to do that.

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