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1Q84 by Haruki Murakami - Review and Recommendation

Updated on October 20, 2012

My Review and Recommendation of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami was a book that sucked me in and took me for a fascinating and mind-warping ride across time and space. Interested? Keep reading!

I'm an avid reader and I'm searching for the best book in the world. I'll do my best to avoid any spoilers in this review - it's not a report on what happens but rather my thoughts on what I liked and loved (or didn't) about the book. Thanks for visiting!

My Initial Impressions

It's hard to say enough good things about 1Q84. Part of that is it lines up very well with the type of book I love to read. It's a love story laced with mystery and history that spans different times and universes. If done well, a book that can be described like that is going to be a book I like. Add in the fact that Murakami is deliberately exploring the ideas of stories, what they mean and how they are told and it ended up being a book I loved.

Inside the Jacket

The description of the book from inside the front cover

The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.

A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84—”Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.

As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.

Even cats and dogs need names.

A newly changed world must need one, too.

My Rambling Review

1Q84 is a weird book. It's hard to describe. A friend asked me what this book was about and I said it was like taking The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Matrix and LOST and mashing it all up. The elements from each are fairly straightforward - a kickass female heroine with a taste for revenge, the science fiction element of uncertain realities and plenty of violence and a healthy dose of mystery and what-the-hell-just-happened. I found the result wonderful.

1Q84's is a tribute to 1984 by George Orwell. I expected a story similar to 1984 and I may have to go back and re-read that classic. 1Q84 certainly isn't a copycat novel and even the similarities that exist aren't pervasive. There are elements of dystopia and a questioned history and truth to the world, but overall, the title can be a bit misleading. One of the fun parts about 1Q84 is that allusions to literature, music and art are scattered throughout from a broad range of sources. Anton Chekhov's makes several appearances, including one that is truly excellent as I reflect back on how the story unfolded.

Oftentimes, stories that function as a dream or across multiple worlds or with elements of fantasy and unreality tend to be an excuse for lazy writing or lazy storytelling. After all, if anything can happen, the consequences are less dire. Your characters can always wake up or go home. But Murakami did a great job of taking a world that has a number of fantastical elements and grounding it in a way that those elements never take away from the story, but add to it instead. This is a story filled with elements that don't make sense that is eminently real and believable. That is hard to do and part of what I enjoyed about the book.

I said up front I would avoid spoilers and I'll always do my best to do that. Promising that made me wonder if I even could spoil the book or ruin the plot for you. The weird part of this book is that I'm not sure I could - even if I were trying to do so. I could tell you the answers to the questions I had while I was reading it, at least some of them. But the questions I had while reading often became insignificant a few pages later, while the questions I wasn't asking jumped to the forefront. In the end, I'm not even sure I have any answers to give, though I could pick some theories out of my bewildered mind. This is the kind of book that I could go back and read again, hoping to pick up on details I missed and "figure out" the plot, but much of the fun for me is in the first reading, with no knowledge of where I'm going (or at times, where I am).

Certainly, in the next few days I'll get on some message boards or find someone's interpretation of exactly what everything meant and how the characters are related and where the allusions in 1Q84 are drawn from. I'm sure someone smarter than myself has gone through the book with a careful eye and unraveled a great deal of this. I wanted to write this review from the perspective of someone who just went on a fantastic journey through a book and is still left with questions and incomplete answers and the overall experience of a great book. Not everything needs to be answered.

I called 1Q84 a love story and it is, though large parts of the book will defy this description. It's certainly a mystery, or perhaps more accurately, a book that contains a number of mysteries all being thrown at the reader at the same time. I also said it is a story about stories and I love books that tackle this question and do so well. Murakami weaves his own thoughts about writing and telling stories skillfully throughout the book - some of the characters are writers and editors. There is little doubt in my mind that part of his intent in writing this was to force us to think about the stories we read and the stories we tell ourselves and others and examine how they fit into our reality.

1Q84 is full of mystery and mysteries and it might be in this space that a weakness develops. I say might because I completely enjoyed the book and I have few criticisms. But it is a dangerous practice to continually present unknown after unknown to the reader. The danger comes in that the reader's imagination expands to fill in the blanks and anticipate what is coming. As long as new mysteries are being presented it is easier to fall deeper and deeper into this trap. For me, everything became a clue, everything became significant, everything became something that I wanted to know more about. Murakami created a world that I was drawn almost entirely into, fascinated and entranced by it. Of course, this is a bubble and it is one that has to pop eventually. For the most part he handled this popping skillfully, but still, something popped and this left me at times slightly disappointed.

In the hands of a less skilled storyteller, failing to deliver on the promises could be a fatal flaw. In this case, I think it is simply the sign of a great story. I want to know more. I want to answer every question I came up with, and I came up with far more than any reasonable author could ever answer. So where does the fault lie? Perhaps I should be more careful with the questions I ask and the answers I expect. Regardless, I enjoyed the journey.

I don't know how to put it exactly,

but there is a sense of time wavering irregularly when you try to forge ahead. If what is in front is behind, and what is behind is in front, it doesn't really matter, does it. Either way is fine.

Get the book!

1Q84: 3 Volume Boxed Set (Vintage International)
1Q84: 3 Volume Boxed Set (Vintage International)

I compare this to:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo + The Matrix + LOST

I give it:

93/100 Air Chrysalides

Moon over Cityscape
Moon over Cityscape

The Structure of the Book

and maybe some of the problems it presents

The version of the book I picked up weighed in at 924 pages - a beast of a book by most definitions. I love reading longer books that give plenty of time for the story to develop. There's nothing worse than getting completely sucked into a story only to have it end after 250 pages. No matter how good those 250 pages were, I inevitably want more. So in the search for the best book in the world, length does matter.

But after noticing other versions of the book and doing a bit of digging - the book was released in three separate volumes, each about one third of the compiled version. Different countries got different versions at different times - in Japan it was released in those three pieces with a wait between them. In the United States, the reader was hit with the three volumes all at once, essentially as one book.

I can't help but think that the story would function better as three separate chapters for several reasons. For one, the book is simply massive. I love reading and have a considerable amount of stamina, but 1Q84 was so good that it kept drawing me forward. I had to force myself to take breaks at times and I found myself moving right ahead when I hit the breaks between the books. Ultimately, I'm just not sure that this is how to best approach the books.

If I could have forced myself to do so, I think taking a few days between each book to let the ideas settle and brace myself for the next round would have been beneficial. Part of this is the fact that they were published separately originally and Murakami occasionally repeats descriptions of events and characters from an older volume. This is valuable when you have read the volume in awhile but mildly annoying when you just read it earlier that day. The other factor in this is that there is so much here - so many ideas and events and plot threads that simply reflecting on what is happening (or just wondering what in the worlds is happening) is a valuable exercise.

And of course, the version I was reading is translated from Japanese into English. The writing was stellar but I always wonder about reading books in translation. Some of the shaping elements from the Japanese language simply don't carry over into the English version - the best example I know of being that in Japanese the number 9 and the letter Q make the same sound. Minor details like this are intact in the original version - but I can't go learn Japanese just to read this book, so thanks to the translators for allowing me to experience it at all.

photo credit: jah~ via photo pin cc

You couldn't begin to imagine who I am,

where I'm going, or what I'm about to do, Aomame said to her audience without moving her lips. All of you are trapped here. You can't go anywhere, forward or back. But I'm not like you. I have work to do. I have a mission to accomplish. And so, with your permission, I shall move ahead.

My Final Verdict

You've made it this far and by this point it should be obvious that I recommend 1Q84. In fact, I won't write about any book that I don't strongly recommend. If the themes of the book and the comparisons I've made strike you as something you'd enjoy, give the first chapter a try. You can get a sample on your Kindle or on Amazon and it's my guess that you'll know right away if this is the kind of book you'll enjoy.

I truly enjoyed reading this book and could hardly put it down. In my mind, it's not a perfect book and I wouldn't call it the best book in the world (I'm still going to keep looking, don't worry). But I loved the story and it made me think, repeatedly. When it was done, I was satisfied and glad I'd read it. I'll go ahead and give it:

93/100 Air Chrysalides

Have you read 1Q84? Are you planning on reading it now or did I convince you it wasn't for you? What should I read next? I appreciate any and all thoughts - thanks!

What did you think?

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      VatsalMakhija 5 years ago

      I've read Norwegian Wood, Kafka on the Shore and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I've avoided 1Q84 so far because, as you said, it's a beast of a book. But now I feel I must read it!

      If you haven't already read it, I'd suggest you go for Kafka on the Shore. And I'd like to read your review on it :)

    • chezchazz profile image

      Chazz 5 years ago from New York

      Well written review. Wondering what you think about Ursula Le Guin's work if you've read any of her books.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Nope -- haven't read it, but I'm glad you were completely enthralled by it. "Heart of Darkness" and "Things Fall Apart" were books that, personally, left me captivated. I'm thinking you might like something by fantasy fiction writer, China Mieville, who actually terms his stuff "weird fiction." I read a write-up by him in Missouri Review -- quite an interesting mind.