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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

1Q84 - Books One, Two and Three

I have a confession to make...the eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that I have neglected to follow through with one of my plans for this blog. Back in August (!) I announced my intention to read Murakami's 1Q84 and review it on a book-by-book basis. Then a few weeks later I chickened out and decided to wait until I'd finished the whole thing to post my thoughts. And now here we are, almost in December, and that review is nowhere to be seen!

So why the delay? Well partly it's because I was enjoying this trilogy so much that I eked out the reading experience as much as possible. I left a fairly long gap in between books two and three simply because I didn't want it to end, which goes to show just how much I enjoyed it. The other problem, though, is that I have been putting off writing a review for a good few weeks because I just didn't know where to start. It's so difficult to write a review of a novel by an author who is already one of your favourites - how to be objective, how to review the book rather than Murakami himself? So here goes, I am going to try and keep it short and to-the-point, before this descends into a rambling, gushing mess of praise.

To be honest, I think I set the scene quite nicely in my initial post about this book. The novel finds us in Tokyo in 1984, where Aomame is living a double life. To the outside world she is a solitary but pleasant gym instructor, but in her spare time she works as an assassin, killing men who have been violent towards women. A bizarre encounter with a taxi driver serves as a catalyst for a sequence of unusual events that lead her to feel that something about the world around her has intrinsically changed, and this feeling intensifies when she notices a new, second moon in the sky.

Meanwhile, across town, Tengo is an aspiring author who gets an offer he can't refuse: to re-write a debut novel by the peculiar teenage Fuka-Eri in order to give it enough polish that it might become a literary bestseller. As he gets drawn further into Fuka-Eri's surreal yet captivating fictional environment, he too begins to think that the real world he is living in is not quite as it was before. Unbeknown to each other, Aomame and Tengo's lives become linked as they both get more and more involved in the curious world of 1Q84.

Much of this book represents business as usual for Murakami and his brand of magical realism. There is something enchanting about the way in which he takes ordinary, unremarkable characters and transplants them into extraordinary settings. But I especially loved the eccentric supporting cast he created here - the sinister gangsters Buzzcut & Ponytail, repulsive private investigator Ushikawa, beautiful Fuka-Eri who manages to be enigmatic and socially awkward in equal measures. Every single person who appears in the book is vividly drawn and perfectly pitched, and each sub-plot is as engrossing as the next. I really enjoyed reading about Tengo's strained relationship with his father, about the dowager's personal crusade against violent men, and about the shady cultish commune of Sakigake.

The only real criticism I have is that it is just a touch too long. As I mentioned above, I took a break between books two and three and when I returned to it I found myself growing impatient - there's a good 150 pages or so where very little happens, and I did feel that a lot of it was covering old ground. However, when you consider the delay between books two and three being published in Japan, this becomes a bit more understandable. And just as I was really starting to become disillusioned everything picked up again for the wonderful ending (which really did tug at my heart strings, and I am not usually a soppy reader).

What you really need to know is this: if you're already a Murakami convert, you'll adore this book. If you are new to his work, this probably isn't the easiest place to start. I don't know if 1Q84 has the same special place in my heart as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle but it definitely comes close.

What do you think - are you a Murakami fan or is it all a bit too surreal for your liking? And how do you find reviewing books by authors who are already favourites? Do you have any tips on how to remain objective?


  1. I'm a Murakami fan and haven't dared to read this one yet - rather large, and what if it's disappointing? But since you're a fan, I'm hopeful that I'll like it too.

    I don't think you can be objective as a fan, but does it matter? :-)

    1. I think if you're already a fan of his books, you will like it for sure!

  2. My husband likes this writer but I've never tried any books. You make it sound very tempting and I like the assassin bit!

    1. I really love his work but I wouldn't try this one first, it's a bit daunting! If you don't mind slow-paced novels and can deal with surreal situations then you should definitely give Murakami a try - maybe a short story collection would be a good place to start? The Elephant Vanishes is very good, if your husband has that in his collection for you to borrow.

  3. A very good review. I can see why you would be overwhelmed at reviewing it. You covered just enough to get me interested. This book has been on my husband's list for a while and we are going to get it soon.

  4. I also like Murakami, but my boyfriend is really a fan.
    I haven't read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (it's in my shelves since ever) but I read Kafka on the shore and I liked it very-very much, even though I didn't understand the end.
    I have 19Q4 too and I have to read it. I didn't know that the firs pages of the second book were so slow, but now I'm on notice, thank you!
    And yes, it's quite difficulto to review a book or an author you like very much, because sometimes you can't express yourself with words :)