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This was the first Murakami book I had read, after hearing quite a lot about him. It is split into three different books, though the first two were released together as one and then the third later... I guess the reason for this might the symbolism of the two main characters being separate in the first two books and then joined in the third? Or perhaps I'm reading into it too much.
Anyway, the story revolves around Aomame (translated as 'Green Pea'), a physiotherapist and fitness instructor-cum-assassin - though only of those who deserve to be assassinated - and Tengo, an introverted and simple maths teacher who writes fiction on the side and harbours aspirations of being an author. As the novel progresses, the two of them both leave their (and our) world - in which the year is 1984 - for the world of 1Q84... where everything appears the same, but is actually a little different.
For example, there are now two moons in the sky. Aomame is the first to notice this, and remarkably, Tengo spends almost the entire novel being oblivious of it. However, they are drawn together through Tengo's writing, Aomame's "work", an enigmatic cult and some shady otherworldly beings known only as the "Little People" and it soon becomes clear that their fates are intertwined.
Whilst the story is in itself fairly entertaining and kept me interested, I was not truly gripped. It felt a little bit like Murakami had a good idea to start with, but the more he thought about it, the less concrete it became in his head and he just sort of started making stuff up as he went along. It struck me in the same way some of Iain Banks later fantastical works have; the author lacked a firm plan and as such the story got away from him.
Also, having later read other works by Murakami, I am a little disappointed at his reliance on his standard bag of tricks. As I see it, the novels almost always have a central character of a shy, taciturn but good-hearted male, confused about his own identity. There are always passive female characters who say very little and are very sensual. In all three of the books I have read there has been the same cut-and-paste sex scene (I'll say no more for spoilers' sake) which really jarred on me. Make up something new man! The author certainly has great talent; it just seems a little like laziness in relying on the same set-plays that have worked in the past.
Though I wasn't wowed either by the story or the characters here, I persevered with Murakami and went on to really enjoy Norwegian Wood. Kafka on the Shore was another one in the 1Q84 vein; a little bit like making it up as he went along. And some fans will argue that I like Norwegian Wood better simply because it is more accessible; whilst that's true and it certainly focuses less on the supernatural, I don't see that as the sole reason why I didn't enjoy the others as much. I just really don't think they are as well planned out or written.
In conclusion, if you are a diehard Murakami fan, you'll probably enjoy this. Enjoy it, not love it. If you've never read him before, start with Norwegian Wood. And if you continue reading him, beware of similar tropes resurfacing again and again.
It is 1984 in Japan - however as the "Q" in the title suggests, there are many questions.
The novel has two main characters, Aomame (literally "green pea") a fitness instructor - who is also an assassin (of bad guys only!), and Tengo, a maths teacher and aspiring writer. For the most part, the story is told from the point of view of each character - in alternate chapters. Oddly, Books 1&2 come together, and Book 3 is separate (although I think you can buy all three as one book now).
On her way to an "appointment" Aomame is stuck in a traffic jam, and takes an emergency stairway as a shortcut - this is the moment when she begins to notice that the world is somewhat altered.
Tengo's world begins to change when, against his judgement and his conscience, he agrees to rewrite a novel called "Air Chrysalis" supposedly written by a school age girl called Fuka-Eri, which is based on her story of life in a religious cult and the actions of the mysterious and supernatural "Little People".
On the surface, world looks the same, but Aomame especially notices changes: for example she discovers that she can't remember recent news events happening, that the Japanese police carry semi-automatic guns - and that there are two moons in the sky!
Tengo - and the reader - isn't as aware that he is also in this strange world at first. Both his and Aomame's alternating stories seem to have no connection, but as the story progresses, and Tengo himself notices the two moons, their lives and paths begin to draw together.
It emerges that they in the same class at school. They were both very much loners at school: Aomame's family were Jehovah's Witnesses and her Sundays were spent calling at homes with her mother - while Tengo's Sunday's where also spent knocking on doors, in his case with his father looking for people's NHK (The Japan broadcasting organisation) license fee. They once shared a brief moment of affection and understanding at school - but had no contact whatsoever since.
Tengo begins to believe that the story is based on Fuka-Eri's actual experience, as indeed connections to a secretive but successful cult are revealed - whilst the leader of the cult himself is to become Aomome's final "assignation".
The more the novel progresses, the more that reader is drawn into this strange world, as Tengo and Aomame are drawn into danger. The story behind "Air Chrysalis" is revealed and, in this world at least, the events are based on fact. Mysterious disappearances and murders happen around them, as the cult close in on its two targets - Tengo, for exposing its secrets, and Aomame - for executing its leader.
However, these mere bones of the plot only give a small indication of the complexities and confusions of "1Q84". The first few chapters show two strange stories with no seeming connection, but both are compelling enough to sustain interest, until they begin to meet.
But this is a strange work.
It's the first complete Murakami I've read. I tried "The Wind up Bird Chronicle" some time ago, and found it incredibly difficult. If it wasn't for the alternating chapters of Tengo and Aomame and my eagerness to discover and understand what was going on I might not have persevered. As the links began to appear, more questions were raised, and though did find out the conclusion, I admit there's still much I didn't understand.
The language is very beautiful and at times felt like I was reading poetry, but the subject matter and themes are confusing, challenging, and often upsetting and not easy to read.
On the whole I found this as fascinating and compelling read, incredibly thought-provoking but also a novel full of action and emotion.
I would definitely recommend "1Q84" - and feel as if I'm better prepared to read more work by Murakami.
Let me start by saying I'm a big fan of Murakami. I was massively excited when I heard about this book and its reception in Japan. I pre-ordered my copies from Amazon and started reading as soon as I received the book. 1Q84 is split into 3 books, but for some strange reason they published books 1 & 2 together and then book 3 separately.
The story follows 2 primary characters: Aomame (Green Pea), a trim, sexy female assassin who kills men using accupuncture; and Toru, a lonely, ordinary kind of guy who is also a writer struggling to finish a book and a teacher on the side. Both stories exist separately but begin to draw together as the novel progresses, as they both become drawn into the world of 1Q84 - a strange, parallel world in which there are, amongst other things, two moons. Toru is drawn into this world when he is offered a job rewriting (illegally) a novel submitted to a competition; Aomame when she decides to walk to an assignation when stuck in a traffic jam on the motorway.
The story is very unusual and imaginative and full of interesting little touches. The connection between Toru and Aomame (they went to school together), Aomame's connection to religious cults. The strange 'Little People' who emerge from an 'air chrysalis' and form the basis of the story that Toru is re-writing. The novel contains a lot of the familiar Murakami motifs: a lonely, isolated young man; a 'well' (in this case a ladder) which leads to another world; cults; a strangely, disjointed or disconnected feel to the characters; glamourous women; jazz and whisky. There are even cats, though not talking ones this time. And Proust, if you can believe that.
My feeling about this book is that Murakami had an absolutely great idea but didn't quite pull it off. It's a long read, over 1000 pages long across the three books, but it could have been significantly shorter. In places it is boring, and in others it is just plain bad. In particular I found the female characters to be almost caricatures, almost as though they are more representative of a male fantasy of how they would like a woman to be - Aomame is slim and athletic, obsessed with her breasts and public area and goes out on the prowl for cheap sex. The other women are invariably large breasted and either sexless (Fuka-Eri - though even she is a vessel for sex) or highly, even dangerously sexed. The sex scenes are generally a bit cringeworthy - the book was shortlisted for the bad sex award; it didn't win but I can only assume that the winner was utterly dreadful. I think the book may also have suffered from having a different translator for part 3 to parts 1 & 2, as this almost felt like a different book.
That being said, there is a core of brilliance in this novel. It has a magical quality to it, particularly around the 'Little People' and the creation of the world 1Q84 which is both real and unreal, and this element is extremely intriguing. I also found Murakami's exploration of religious cults quite insightful, something which probably benefits from his examination of the Aum gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in his chilling book 'Underground'. There's a surprisingly feminist element, despite the fantasy figures and bad sex, in that Aomame's primary role as assassin is to protect women who have been subjected to domestic abuse which I found a positive part of the book.
My view on 1Q84 is that it's probably one for the hardcore Murakami fan, but that even those might find it disappointing. If you've never read a Murakami book before, I'd suggest picking up The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which is in my opinion his best work, or Norwegian Wood which is one of his most accessible. Or alternatively, his non-fiction book Underground which covers the Tokyo gas attacks is a worthwhile read.