Tuesday, January 3, 2012
1Q84, a Review
The title of the book refers to an alternate version of the year 1984, one in which two moons rule the night sky and Little People are secretly in control of what’s going on. This may sound like a fantasy, but then again Murakami’s works always portray lonely characters trapped in surreal landscapes that distort the boundaries of reality. 1Q84 is a parallel world, or possibly, a different way to look at the existing world.
1Q84 - how does one pronounce the title? At first I believed that it was a simple rendition of one character after the other. 1 – Q – 8 – 4. But the more I read, the more I believed that in a parallel world a different pronunciation was more appropriate. If 1984 is pronounced “Nineteen eighty four,” why shouldn’t 1Q84 be pronounced “Q-teen eighty four”? Hey, but that’s just me. In Japanese, as Wikipedia informs us, the title is “ichi-kew-hachi-yon” and the number nine in Japanese is pronounced “kyū”, making it a homophone with the English letter Q.
The novel is a page-turner, even though there’s not that much suspense and it certainly cannot be defined as a thriller. Yet, there is something compelling about the writing and the characters that makes one continue almost breathlessly, waiting to see just what will happen next. One evening I announced to my wife that I had only 300 more pages to go, and she replied by saying that was the length of a whole book. In Japan, 1Q84 was originally published as three separate hardcover volumes, with the third following a year after the first two came out in May, 2009. I don’t know how I could have waited a whole year to find out how the novel ended.
What exactly is 1Q84 about? Although one reviewer described the book as a "complex and surreal narrative,” it is very simple actually, shifting “back and forth between tales of two characters, a man and a woman, who are searching for each other." There is a lot involved here, including multi-layered themes of cult religion, murder, family ties and memory. And there is a lot in parallel to the dystopian society of George Orwell’s 1984, which is quite obviously the source of this book’s title.
The book is long, and in fact, too long. Readers don’t need to fear that they will miss an important incident or fact, as Murakami goes out of his way to repeat his themes and events. If one character says something, you will frequently find that another character will reply by repeating the same original statement for emphasis.” A good editor would have attacked these repetitions vigorously, and probably shortened the novel by a third in the process. And the result would still have been a memorable Murakami creation.
Like many other Haruki Murakami fans, I have read all of his books religiously and in fact, I have a shelf of Murakami paperbacks in my home. 1Q84 is the first book of his that I own in hardcover. Many reviewers claim that it is the ultimate Haruki Murakami novel, his magnus opus, but I certainly hope not. I hope there are more Murakami novels ahead.
Have you read 1Q84? What did you think? How does it compare to Murakami's other books?