Haruki Murakami's "1Q84": Book Review

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1Q84 by Haruki MurakamiI downloaded Haruki Murakami's 1Q84: The Complete Trilogy on my Kindle just before leaving my home in Iowa, U.S.A. to come here to Dublin for my study abroad semester. I began reading almost as soon as the plane took off, and I immediately fell in love with Murakami's style of writing. I had never before read anything that could be compared to Murakami's prose.

Murakami draws you in with his extraordinary descriptions and images of completely ordinary things. The words he uses are almost clinical, but the way in which he pulls them together paints a picture more vivid than a photograph, and certainly more lyrical. The physical descriptions of his characters, such as Aomame and Tengo, jump off the page so well that they almost seem three-dimensional. I couldn't help but see Murakami's cast before me as I worked my way through the lengthy novel.

The complete novel contains three parts, which were originally separate entities. Published originally in Japan, Books 1 and 2 were both published on May 29, 2009, and Book 3 was published on April 16, 2010. In the English translation and the version that I read, the novel was published in the United States in a single volume on October 25, 2011. The first two volumes of these English editions were translated by Jay Rubin, and the third by Philip Gabriel. The complete collection of the three is mammoth in size: it sits at over 900 pages. It took me about one month to get through, but it served as a comforting and stable presence to me throughout my time of transition here in Ireland. I had entered another country, moved into a new home with new roommates, began a new job, and learned to navigate a bustling city, but during all that while this book remained a constant. Maybe that had something to do with my fondness for the work, but Murakami's prose can still claim the major attraction for me. 

I will be the first to say that there were times when I wanted to throw the book at the wall and give up on it, but I refrained from doing so because 1. Kindles are expensive and 2. I couldn't leave these characters, I felt a certain degree of responsibility for them. 

The novel centres around a woman, Aomame, and a man, Tengo, who at first seemingly have no connection whatsoever between them. Aomame is a physical trainer by day, assassin of abusive men by night. Tengo is a teacher and struggling writer (not quite as exciting as Aomame, but don't worry, his storyline turns out to be thrilling as well). As the book develops, the lives of these characters unfold like a flower, petal by petal. Murakami is extremely careful and protective to not give away too much too fast, and he succeeds. This frustrated me to no end at times, but I wanted to believe that the reward would be all the sweeter when I was finally able to connect the dots and Tengo and Aomame finally crossed paths.

I ended up having to wait awhile. The best way that I can describe 1Q84 is like a complicated web, twisting and turning and pushing and pulling in places that you would never expect. It has quite a few unexplainable holes as well. What begins as a common enough tale of two star-crossed lovers turns into a magical, sci-fi thriller. Some of the ideas and plots are so bizarre that it was a struggle to accept them, but the ordinary settings and almost methodical daily rituals of the characters pulled the novel back down to earth just as it seemed to be floating away for good.

The story takes place in an alternate universe, 1Q84, for almost the entirety. Somehow 1984 has been transformed into this other world, where nothing is as it seems. Throw in a publishing scandal, a romance, cult activities, "Little People", air chrysalis, talking animals and more, and you have a hodge-podge of basically every sort of plot twist available. There are a million and one storylines that are at times difficult to swallow, but the desire to explain these strange phenomena keeps you going.

This work is not for the faint of heart. It will inevitably frustrate, confuse, amaze, and beguile you as much as it did me. It jumps back and forth between past and present, reality and dream, and this has the capacity to nauseate the reader. However, you will start to feel a certain attachment to the characters and their fates. I knew that as soon as I started I wouldn't be able to let them go easily, and even now, weeks after having completed it, I know that their stories will haunt me for some time. Be warned as well, Murakami is not at all concerned with nice little packages tied with a bow. There are some, actually many, aspects of the book that are never explained. As a reader, this was something that I struggled with but in the end had to accept. It was worth it to read however, if just to know how the world turned out for Aomame and Tengo, and also it was worth it to enjoy the style of Haruki Murakami. 

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

I now have an unquenchable thirst for more of Murakami's work. Haruki Murakami originates from Kyoto, Japan, and was born in 1949. He is almost a celebrity in Japan, as well as around the world as his works have been translated into more than 50 languages. He has published dozens of novels, short stories, non-fiction works, essays and more, over the years. He is extremely well-known as a contemporary Japanese writer, and is unique in the way that he often references Western ideas and topics in his works. After completing 1Q84, I went ahead and did a bit of research on Murakami, and found a few other titles written by him that are reviewed to be even more enjoyable (and thankfully less far-fetched) than 1Q84, such as Norwegian Wood and After Dark. These works were given more favourable reviews by critics, and so I expect to maybe enjoy them more as well. 1Q84 was not particularly well-received by the majority of critics or readers, but there are a number of die-hard Murakami fans and the occasional other reader that still sing praises of the book. 

Now, don't get me wrong, I did personally enjoy 1Q84 for the most part. It left me hungry for more of their world, just as I believe a good book should leave you. However, not everyone will most likely enjoy this book as much as me. If you are looking for a fantastic adventure story and don't mind unanswered questions though, it may be for you. It is not a safe choice of a novel by any means, but rather a mystical and trancelike experience, albeit one that I will most likely never forget. 

If you have also read this novel, I'm curious... what did you think?

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