Haruki Murakami
1Q84 Cover



"Look outside the window" my wife said.

"There are two moons in the sky. Doesn't it look weird?"

A somewhat strange thing to say you may think and an even stranger thing to put in a book review. However, when my wife exclaimed this just a few moments earlier Tengo had discovered two moons in the sky during my reading of 1Q84.

And this gets to the heart of why I love reading Murakami so much - he takes the ordinary, the mundane, daily events that make up living and makes them seem so interesting. At the same time he inserts the weird and the fantastical into his stories that seem quite normal in his world. So, rather than feel a little spooked at the idea of two moons in the sky at exactly the moment I'd read about them I actually looked outside the window. And yes, the moon reflected onto a nearby window at an angle and it looked like indeed there were two moons in the sky...

So yes, I am a Murakami fan, I adore the way he writes, his characters, his descriptions and the world around him. The reader must consider this in judging my review, and that's because whilst I enjoyed the book it wasn't one of my favourite novels by Murakami. Indeed, right now it feels like 1Q84 is my least favourite Murakami novel but at the same time I still think this is a good book, just not a great one.

My issue with this is one of length, in many respects this is not an easy read. In places it drags and at times, particularly in the second book I felt, 'if this was not Murakami I'd stop'. I fully understand the perspective of readers who think this book requires an editor. Likewise, I understand the complaint that much of the book just repeats information time and time again. It's clearly a stylistic device and I'm not sure it works here. I really would not recommend this book to new readers of Murakami yet at the same time I would recommend the book to those familiar with his work as surely they would know what to expect.

There is a tinge of misogyny to the novel. Women are brutally murdered in sexually motivated attacks. Children are raped. Sadistic domestic violence is a theme in the novel. Sex features heavily throughout the first half of the book. Whilst a theme of the novel is hurting men who hurt women (including a great chapter dedicated to how best to kick a man in the balls!) I guess why the novel is problematic is that in some of the cases of violence there appears to be no resolution to the crimes. Likewise, some of the events are dismissed in a paragraph or so. I can understand how a reader could find dismissive sexual violence to be challenging or even distasteful to read.

Which leads us onto sex... I would not consider myself a fan of erotica but I do love Murakami's description of sex. I find them genuinely arousing and sometimes I can get lost in them, then realise I'm on the bus going to work. I suppose it doesn't hurt that I am a bit of a Japanophile but I just love the way he describes sex.

The structure of the novel of alternating chapters from the perspective of the two main protagonists Aomame and Tengo works really well. The twist of the third book introducing the perspective of Ushikawa is a nice device and adds a level of curiosity to the final third of the books.

I really like the idea of the metanovel - the book within a book. Tengo ghostwrites a story by a teenage writer Fuka-Eri which becomes a hit. The story, 'Air Chrysalis' appears to be fantastical (and introduces the 'two moons'). Yet, at times we need to consider if 'Air Chrysalis' is true. Is Aomame in the story of 'Air Chrysalis'? Is her story in the novel Tengo is writing after 'Air Chrysalis'? Aomame believes she has entered an alternative reality she calls 1Q84. Why did she go there? Is Tengo in the same reality, recently joined it or never been in it. There are some scenes in the third book that are heart breaking if you allow yourself to believe they are not in the same reality. I forgot to tell you - this is a love story too.

Short stories are referenced (which may be real or not - I haven't checked). The 'Cat Town' short story is really creepy, even more so when Tengo goes there. I found this quite trippy and menacing, almost like it was the end of the world where Tengo visits his Father. The three nurses (with a nod to Macbeth) are almost like guiding spirits, helping Tengo and stopping him from getting lost forever. Whilst we are considering Shakespeare I do think there is an Oedipal nature to Tengo. From Chekov's description of the remotest areas of Russia to stories of classic Japanese literature you are often unsure what you, Murakami or the characters are reading.

The characterisation is great. Tengo is quite boring in many respects (and I love the boring men of Murakami's works). That said, the wonderful descriptions of preparing food are a joy to read. Fuka-Eri is a captivating girl who is mysterious and quite hard to get a read on. Aomame is awesome, a ruthless killer yet a woman with a conscious and a desire to be exactly who she wants to be. I quite liked the spunky Ayumi and was saddened by what happened. Tengo's father is quite horrible, yet at the same time is a figure of sympathy. He does not deserve the way Tengo treats him in my opinion. Is he the mysterious ghostly NHK collector - as menacing a character as one could read, and brought back memories of my impoverished youth and TV licence collectors at my door! Which brings us to Ushikawa - Murakami is masterful in the way he takes quite a despicable figure and turns him into a sympathetic figure.

Not a great Murakami novel and not really recommended for readers new to Murakami yet having said that fans of his work will find much of value here and will find this a joy to read.