I have been a fan of Murakami ever since I read Kafka on the Shore. My first book of his was Norwegian Wood, which I enjoyed but definitely did not give me any insight into what his true style is.
After discussing more with Murakami fans, I thought “Ok, let’s pick up this Kafka book”. Suffice to say that I was completely drawn in by his surrealistic style, and since then it’s been a never ending purchase of one after another of his books.
About the author
Haruki Murakami is a Japanese author, born in Kyoto in 1949. He is one of Japan’s most famous contemporary authors, his books having been translated into 50 languages. Norwegian Wood was the novel that propelled him to fame, though as I mentioned above this is not – in my opinion – truly representative of his surrealistic style.
His books have received several prizes, including the World Fantasy Award for Kafka on the Shore, and the Jerusalem prize for his expression and promotion of the idea of the freedom of the individual in society.
Amongst other things, he is also passionate about jazz music (which you may pick up on in his novels) and is an avid runner.
About the novel
Murakami’s novels are mostly completely whacky and out there and 1Q84 is no exception. There is a big dose of completely surreal characters or moments in the novel where your willing suspension of disbelief will be tried and you will wonder where on earth he is going with this.
But for those of you who are familiar with Murakami this will come as no surprise, and for those of you who are not, I hope this is what gets you hooked.
The novel tells the story of two characters, Aomame and Tengo. We read their stories in parallel and yet very early on we get the sense that both of their lives are deeply intertwined. The intrigue is to find out how exactly are they linked, and when will they meet again?
Aomame is living an less than ordinary life. The book starts out with her discovering a secret exit on the motorway, leading her to start seeing things that are different or don’t usually exist in her everyday life, as well as having visions of two moons in the sky amongst other things. Additionally, she appears to be working as a hit-woman killing off rich Japanese businessmen.
Tengo on the other hand lives a rather ordinary life as a maths teacher, with a passion for writing. His passion and ambition to write a novel, brings him face to face with a manuscript of great intrigue. Poorly written but with potential, Tengo’s editor asks him to have a go at improving it and turning it into something worthy of an award. Reluctantly he accepts, and this is what will start his fall into the parallel dimension of 1Q84.
How and when will Tengo and Aomame end up meeting? Will they ever? What is it that draws them together?
I won’t go into their stories in more detail,as I don’t want to recount the novel, but I would like to dwell on what made this book so interesting to me aside from the plot. For a start, Murakami’s literary and musical references are fantastic. Of course 1Q84 cannot help but make you think of George Orwell’s 1984, which Murakami subtly references in the novel.
Being a jazz fan, his books are always full of musical moments and references which are detailed and most interesting. Much as a movie always has a soundtrack, so do Murakami’s books. If you are a musical person this will speak to you as you can either imagine the soundtrack as you read, or you will associate certain songs with the novel/different moments in it. It’s an interesting way to involve the reader and play on your senses.
But what struck me the most in this novel was a sense of beauty. It was such a pure and beautiful story, such a wonderful tale of love. It’s hard to explain as Murakami’s work is never really “pure”, with all its twists and turns. But the love story that ran throughout the novel was transcendent, giving it a sense of purity.
This is not traditional romance, it’s not a “happily ever after”. But it’s a wonderful tale of love, of two people’s dedication to each other, and of their belief in something greater than themselves – destiny.
This brings me to the second thing that amazed me about this novel, and it was the underlying philosophical feeling it had and gave me. Again, it’s difficult to put this feeling into words, but all along I could not help but think that this novel was tackling the greater themes of life.
Love, self, commitment, ethics… What are our own boundaries and how far will we go for something we believe in? Where are the limits? What if we all had our own parallel worlds and what do they mean? Even the two moons in themselves felt symbolic and philosophical.
Murakami’s other novels I have also read an loved, enjoying the craziness with which he tells his stories. But this one really gave me a completely different feeling. All along as I was reading it, I was going back not just for Tengo and Aomame’s stories but for something bigger than that, the overall purpose and feeling of the book. For the beauty it inspired me and the vision it gave me of something bigger.
So I hope this inspires you to read 1Q84, whether you already love Murakami, whether you’re on the fence, or if this is your first novel then I really hope you enjoy it. Let me know what it inspires you, I’d be interested to hear!