I picked up Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 in a bookstore at LAX before a late overseas flight. I had just finished a large beer at the bar to help me sleep. I only mention this because there’s no other reason for someone to add a 10 pound, 1,200 page book to their already overflowing backpack right before a trip.
The width of the spine of 1Q84 imposes a sense of depth, like this book holds more space than the laws of physics say it should. In spite of its volume, I honestly can’t tell you what the book is about.
The story generally follows two storylines, one about a gym coach turned assassin named Aomame, and the other about Tengo, a math teacher and aspiring fiction author. Both live in Tokyo in 1984. On one level, the story is clearly a love story. The two protagonists meet, fall in love, and probably live happily ever after. Along the way, memorable quotes about life and love remind you that this is, indeed, a love story. On the other hand, Tengo and Aomame don’t meet until about page 1,190.
The interim blends discussions of international cuisine and culture with fantasy and weird sex and a mystery that Aomame and Tengo independently stumble into. But mostly, they are both 30 and coming to grips with solidifying lives and lifestyles, for better or for worse (a feeling I can certainly empathize with).
Upon learning about a major event involving the police, terrorists, and a gunfight that happened two years ago, Aomame decides that she has left her home 1984 behind for a parallel timeline, which she dubs 1Q84. In the sky a second moon, tiny and green, emblemizes that 1Q84 does not follow the same rules as 1984.
Like it or not, I’m here now, in the year 1Q84. The 1984 that I knew no longer exists. It’s 1Q84 now. The air has changed, the scene has changed. I have to adapt to this world-with-a-question-mark as soon as I can.
Book 1, Chapter 9
Tengo is introduced to a strange young female author, who has roughly written a short fantasy and with whom he agrees to ghostwrite the story into a publishable novel. After finishing, he notices that the world around him has started to resemble the fantastical aspects of the novel. Like Aomame, he sees the second moon.
…I would go on, but to be honest, the story takes a backseat to Murakami’s writing. The Tokyo of 1Q84 twists and blends Impressionism countrysides with acid trip whirlwinds. Debris and disturbances overwhelm everyone and everything in the story. But the words are clear. You calmly walk, head and eyes forward, both a part of the madness and an impartial observer.
You can tell the author had fun. The book hints at (and eventually reveals) the mystery behind the “world-with-a-question-mark,” but Murakami takes his time. He teases us. As the mystery deepens, he feints at one answer and then another and another. As soon as you’re confident you’ve untangled the mystery of 1Q84, Murakami firmly tells us “no, we need to go deeper.”
That being said, there is no doubt that this is a love story. Aomame and Tengo realize their connection through a mix of dreams, hallucinations (drug-induced and otherwise), and prophecies. This is something you could only get away with in the intimacy of a book. This story would be impossibly cheesy on any kind of screen.
All-in-all, 1Q84 deserves your attention. Take your time and enjoy the way it teases you as it winds through the maybe-real-maybe-make-believe reality of 1Q84. I’ll drop a few of my favorite quotes below (and some random ones from flipping around).
If she had been Faye Dunaway, at this point Aomame would have taken out a slim cigarette and coolly lit it with a cigarette lighter, elegantly narrowing her eyes. But Aomame did not smoke, and she had neither cigarettes nor a lighter with her. About all she had in her bag was a box of lemon cough drops. That plus a steel 9mm automatic pistol and a specially made ice pick she had used to stab a number of men in the back of the neck. Both might be somewhat more lethal than cigarettes.
Book 2, Chapter 23
One was the moon that had always been there, and the other was a far smaller, greenish moon, somewhat lopsided in shape, and much less bright. It looked like a poor, ugly, distantly related child that had been foisted on the family by unfortunate events and was welcomed by no one. But it was undeniably there, neither a phantom nor an optical illusion, hanging in space like other heavenly bodies, a solid mass with a clear-cut outline. Not a plane, not a blimp, not an artificial satellite, not a papier-mâché moon that someone made for fun. It was without a doubt a chunk of rock, having quietly, stubbornly settled on a position in the night sky, like a punctuation mark placed only after long deliberation or a mole bestowed by destiny.
Book 2, Chapter 20
And so Aomame had made up her mind to go to a discount store near the station in her Jiyugaoka neighborhood and buy a goldfish. If no one was going to buy her a goldfish and bowl, then she would do it herself. What’s wrong with that? she had thought. I’m a grown-up, I’m thirty years old, and I live in my own apartment. I’ve got bricks of money piled up in my safe-deposit box. I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to buy myself a damned goldfish.
Book 1, Chapter 21
All that Aomame could do was inhale and exhale deeply. She had no idea how to go about quieting the intense emotional currents streaming through her body. Her face was greatly distorted, and her right and left hands seemed to be longing for entirely different things.
“I would like you to take my life,” the man said. “It makes no sense for me to go on living in this world. I should be obliterated in order to maintain the world’s balance.”
Book 2, Chapter 11
“And also,” the driver said, facing the mirror, “please remember: things are not what they seem.”
Things are not what they seem, Aomame repeated mentally. “What do you mean by that?” she asked with knitted brows. The driver chose his words carefully: “It’s just that you’re about to do something out of the ordinary. Am I right? People do not ordinarily climb down the emergency stairs of the Metropolitan Expressway in the middle of the day—especially women.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
“Right. And after you do something like that, the everyday look of things might seem to change a little. Things may look different to you than they did before. I’ve had that experience myself. But don’t let appearances fool you. There’s always only one reality.”
Book 1, Chapter 1
The number of people who could deliver a kick to the balls with Aomame’s mastery must have been few indeed. She had studied kick patterns with great diligence and never missed her daily practice. In kicking the balls, the most important thing was never to hesitate. One had to deliver a lightning attack to the adversary’s weakest point and do so mercilessly and with the utmost ferocity—just as when Hitler easily brought down France by striking at the weak point of the Maginot Line. One must not hesitate. A moment of indecision could be fatal.
Book 1, Chapter 11
“Mr. Komatsu said so,” she asked, without a question mark.
Book 1, Chapter 6
“You’d better sleep,” she said. “Very deeply”
Sleep very deeply, Tengo thought. Sleep, and then wake up. What kind of world will be there tomorrow?
“No one knows the answer to that,” Fuka-Eri said, reading his mind.”
Book 2, Chapter 14
“I’m on duty now,” she said. She cleared her throat. “Mr. Kawana just passed away.”
“Mr. Kawana just passed away,” Tengo repeated, not comprehending. Was someone telling him he himself had just died?
Book 3, Chapter 21