1Q84, by Haruki Murakami, was published, as a single volume, in 2011. The trade paperback edition of the novel, which I borrowed from the library, is 1,157 pages long.
1Q84 was originally published in three volumes, between 2009 and 2010. Volumes 1 and 2 were translated from Japanese into English by Jay Rubin. Volume 3 was translated by Philip Gabriel.
Aomame’s name is written with the same characters as the word for “green peas”, and it’s pronounced with the same four syllables: “Ah-oh-mah-meh”. People have a hard time believing that that’s her real name, but it is. Her grandfather came from a village where a lot of people are supposedly named Aomame, but Aomame has never met another person with the same name as her.
Aomame is in the back of an unusually luxurious taxi. Janáček’s Sinfonietta is playing on the cab’s stereo. Aomama is lost in the music, until she remembers that she is heading for an important meeting, and they’re stuck in a traffic jam on a Tokyo expressway. She’s going to be late for her meeting. The cab driver gives her an “extreme” solution: Leave the cab, climb down the expressway maintenance ladder, to the street three stories below, and take the subway to her meeting.
Aomame pays her fare and as she leaves the taxi, in the middle of the expressway, the cab driver tells her: “Don’t let appearances fool you… There’s always only one reality.”
Tengo has a memory from when he was one-and-a-half years old. A man, who is not his father, is sucking on his mother’s breasts. Tengo realizes it’s unusual to remember anything from such a young age. It’s even more unusual that he sees himself in the memory, as if reading a story in the third person.
Tengo has this memory often, and every time he does, it causes him to have a kind of seizure.
Tengo is in a café near Shinjuku Station when he has this vivid memory, and the resulting seizure. They both last about ten seconds. He’s in the café with his friend and mentor, Komatsu. They had been discussing an author named Fuka-Eri and her debut novel Air Chrysalis. It had been submitted to a new writers’ competition. Tengo and Komatsu agree that the novel is poorly written, certainly not a prize winner, and yet it’s a compelling book.
Komatsu is a magazine editor. Tengo is a school teacher, and part-time writer. The two met five years earlier, when Tengo submitted a piece for Komatsu’s magazine’s new writers’ competition. Komatsu informed Tengo that the piece was not good enough to win the competition, but showed enough potential that Komatsu offered to become Tengo’s mentor, judging everything Tengo wrote. Eventually, Komatsu hired Tengo as a screener for the new writers’ competition.
Komatsu presents an idea to Tengo: Air Chrysalis should be submitted to the prestigious Akutagawa Prize. It would have to be completely rewritten, however, and Komatsu suggests that Tengo do it. Tengo has skill but lacks imagination, Komatsu points out, while Fuka-Eri has imagination but lacks skill. Tengo rejects the idea. It sounds like committing fraud, he says.
As she descends the maintenance ladder, Aomame has a memory of a lesbian experimentation she once had with a classmate. The memory is vivid, and seems entwined with Janáček’s Sinfonietta, but she can’t remember what year it took place. In fact, she’s suddenly having difficulty remembering any dates at all. “It is now April 1984. I was born in… that’s it… 1954. I can remember that much.”
On her way to the subway station, a police officer passes her. His uniform is the standard police uniform, but it’s slightly different. He’s carrying a sophisticated automatic weapon, instead of the typical revolver.
Aomame arrives at the hotel. She cleans herself up. She knocks on the door of room 426. She tells Mr. Miyama that she’s a member of the hotel staff, there to inspect a faulty air conditioner.
Aomame murders Mr. Miyama quietly and professionally. She leaves the hotel, looking like any other business woman. She leaves nothing behind that would suggest it was anything other than a heart attack.
Tengo meets with Fuka-Eri, still unsure whether he’ll take on Komatsu’s plan. Fuka-Eri is a 17-year old girl who doesn’t display many emotions. She speaks in short sentences, without inflection. She doesn’t go to Tengo’s school, but she’s attended a couple of his lectures. She doesn’t care much for literature, despite having written Air Chrysalis. She claims she didn’t submit the novel to the competition, but won’t say who did. She doesn’t care if Tengo rewrites her book or not. She doesn’t care much about anything. Suddenly, Tengo decides to do the rewrite. Fuka-Eri says that before he does, there’s someone he should meet. She won’t say who this person is until they meet him.
Aomame goes to a bar, and strikes up a conversation with a stranger. She asks him about the new police uniforms. The man remembers the change, but thinks it was a long time ago. The bartender tells them that the police updated their uniforms, and began carrying automatic weapons, about two years ago, following a confrontation with a militarized cult. It was quite a big story, he says. Aomame doesn’t remember that. She goes back to the man’s hotel room, and they have sex. Afterwards, she watches the news, and sees an update about the moon base being built as a joint project by the Soviet Union and the USA. This is the first time Aomame has heard of this moon base.
Aomame forms a hypothesis: Her world, or the whole world, has changed. It’s no longer 1984, she decides. It’s now something she names “1Q84”.
That’s the first hundred or so pages, less than ten percent of 1Q84.
When I picked up 1Q84 at the library, I had very little idea what it was about. I knew it had something to do with parallel worlds, or alternate realities, or something along those lines. But that’s all I knew. I guessed it might be science fiction, but I wasn’t even sure of that. I picked it for the Challenge mainly for its number of pages.
At the end of “Book 1”, 387 pages into the novel, I still had no idea where it was going, but I couldn’t put it down. It was reminding me, somewhat, of the TV show Lost. Everyday events become mystical. Details begin looking like clues to solve a mystery. But I didn’t even know what that mystery might be.
At the end of “Book 2”, at page 739, I began to understand how the worlds (whatever worlds those might be) of Aomame, Tengo, Fuka-Eri, and Air Chrysalis were connected, but I still didn’t understand why they were connected. The book still had around 400 pages to go, and I didn’t know where it was going, and I didn’t want to put the book down.
I had been on a long waiting list at the library for this book, and I knew that I probably wouldn’t be able to renew it, so I made plans for when my three-week loan would be up and I hadn’t finished the book. That didn’t happen. Reading 1Q84 was like binge-watching Lost. I’d open the book, intending to read a chapter, the story would take an unexpected twist, and I just had to keep reading to find out what that twist meant. I’d continue reading another chapter, and then another. I flew through the thousand pages in less than three weeks. I’ve never read a book that quickly – until now.
1Q84 is an amazing book. It’s a mystery, and a detective story, and a romance. It’s erotic (and quite graphic). I won’t tell you if it’s science fiction or not, because that would be spoiling it. The characters are fascinating and the story is compelling.
Actually, the story consumed me. It brought me into its world (or worlds) and wouldn’t let me go.
I absolutely loved 1Q84. It’s now one of my all-time favorite books.
- A book that’s more than 800 pages