Tuesday, January 3, 2012

1Q84, a Review

It is difficult to cozy up with Haruki Murakami’s new novel, 1Q84, because the hardcover version is so big and heavy. But diehard Murakami fans, myself included, have been eagerly awaiting the latest fiction from the popular Japanese author and greeted this 925-page tome with the reverence it deserves.

Get the Kindle version of 1Q84 - it has the same amount of words but it's not as thick.

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?

8 comments:

  1. Looks like we are on the same page here. I thoroughly enjoyed the book but had been disappointed to learn that its length did not render it his best novel, in my opinion. I definitely like Wind-up and Hard-Boiled Wonderland better, and perhaps even Kafka on the Shore. I posted a response to your comment on my blog.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Typically I read 1 book every 2 years, just read 1Q84 books 1 to 3 back to back without a break in 2 weeks. Even checking to read every word. A great book, a great read and not too long

    ReplyDelete
  3. That's a good point about all the repetition. One character would say something. Someone else would say it in a later chapter. The same person would then spend two paragraphs saying the same thing. Then they would say the same thing in bold face. It was a bit superfluous.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Certain things happen twice (or even three times when Ushikawa is involved) because first one character wills them into being, and then the others most follow. Like Tengo describing the air chrysalis and then having it appear later.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm glad to hear all your comments and thoughts about the book! Even though it was long, I couldn't put it down. If you haven't yet read it, enjoy!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I am about 2/3 through the set, and still waiting for important ideas to be expressed. I can't say if the translation has stripped layered meaning from the original, or if there are cultural reference points that I am lacking, but for me, the translation feels simplistic and clumsy, as if it were written for a middle-school audience, and most nights, the thing puts me to sleep before I can read an entire chapter. Is it even worth finishing, other than as a sleep-aid?

    ReplyDelete
  7. I haven´t read the book but I saw this TED-talk with book designer Chip Kidd, who created the cover of this book, and lots of others. The talk is funny and inspiring. If you have a few minutes to spare I think you will find it worth the time to watch.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/chip_kidd_designing_books_is_no_laughing_matter_ok_it_is

    Keep writing and I'll keep reading! :)
    /Cecilia

    ReplyDelete
  8. Ellis, cool read, thanks. I didn't know the business about the Japanese word for nine being phonetically consistent with the English "Q." I entirely agree that the theme was overwrought and thought the same thing about an editor cutting the book down. Luckily, my husband got me the book in a package of three so I didn't have to wrangle with the whole thing at once, but now I'm reading Bob Spitz's Beatles Bio and it's comparable in size so I'm switching hands a lot. xo

    ReplyDelete