The book opens in the middle of Tokyo in the mother of all traffic jams. Aomame is stuck in a taxi with a rather bizarre driver and is late for an important meeting, so she makes the decision to get out of the car in the middle of the motorway & get back to street level via the emergency staircase at the side of the road. Her taxi driver gives some mysterious words of warning:
"Please remember: things are not what they seem. 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...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. But don't let appearances fool you. There's always only one reality"
Sure enough, Aomame soon begins to recognise subtle changes in her solitary and regimented lifestyle. She lives her days as before; teaching her martial arts class, going out to bars to pick up men, working with her friend 'the dowager' at a shelter for victims of domestic abuse. But there are cracks appearing in the foundations of everything she thought she knew about the world around her. Has her environment changed, or is it Aomame herself?
In the next chapter we meet Tengo, maths teacher by day, frustrated novelist in his spare time. He has been approached by his editor to take part in a scam - to secretly re-write the first draft of a novel written by eccentric teen Fuka-Eri, in order that it can be submitted to win a prestigious literary award. Tengo becomes engrossed in Fuka-Eri's strange story and is increasingly intrigued by the girl herself.
Book One really serves to set the scene and introduce the characters. Murakami does this so well and I think it is really worth taking the extra time and page space to get to know Aomame and Tengo. The story is told in chapters alternating between each character's point of view. It is clear that their lives are connected in some way but we are yet to find out how. There has been just a hint of the surrealism that I know and love from reading Murakami's other novels and I am sure that will be developed in the next book! I am really enjoying it so far, as I had expected to, but I must say that I am yet to read anything that wows me to the extent of setting 1Q84 apart from my other Murakami favourites.