“1Q84 – that’s what I’ll call this new world, Aomame decided.
Q is for “question mark.” A world that bears a question.” “
“A world that bears a question”….The existence of this world is what drives the events of 1Q84, a trilogy of 800 pages, which manages to connect perfectly from one book to another.
This one is a parallel world, another dimension of time and space, which becomes accessible through tiny passages, such as an emergency staircase, or an ‘air chrysalis’. As Aomame, one of the main characters enters this world, it becomes a bit of ‘Alice in the Wonderland’ scenario, but an incognito one – the reader does not find out about this “wonder” world shift, until some chapters later in the book.
1Q84 is a world with 2 moons: the real one and the shadow. This dualism is also transported to the world of ‘humans’ – imagine having 2 versions of each person: the receiver and the perceiver. One of you is the essence and one is the shadow. A natural question rises: what is the role of the shadow? Who is the real you? A philosophical question, which becomes stimulated by a parallel reality. The answer to this question remains open. This is one of the things I like the most about this book: no matter how many times I will get to read it, the answers I will get will depend on the specific stage of my life.
Yet, the mere idea of reading this book several times, make it resemble like a ‘cat town’, which is difficult to abandon. In fact, I tried to read another book the next day, and I felt that I could not focus on it without writing down my thoughts on this one first.
The whole trilogy is composed of smaller chapters, each unfolded through the eyes of the main characters: Tengo and Aomame (with the exception of the third book, where there are some chapters from Ushikawa’s point of view – another character, who initially seems like a villain, but later on, one learns how to pity him).
Murakami’s main characters are random people with certain regular routine. Tengo is a Math school teacher, and an unpublished novel writer as well. While Aomame is a gym instructor and a serial paid assassin. Murakami spends quite some time describing their unusual physical features, in order to make them more vivid to the reader, and also better fit them to the story.
Both of them have held hands once, when they were ten. Yet, there is a powerful feeling that unites them, and their platonic, or quasi-platonic love is described in a tense way throughout the book. Will they meet? How will their encounter be? Have they changed after so many years? What will definitely unite them among other things?
As love is described with a blend of romanticism and pragmatism, sex scenes are painted quite oddly. As if Murakami intended to make sex come across as unusual in 1Q84, carrying it all: desire, pleasure, duty and mhm…logistics (you will understand what I mean once you read that book part).
However, I as a reader cannot really question the why’s of the characters’ actions. I end up believing them, and seeking for questions and answers elsewhere. For example, the actions of the mysterious NHK fee collector, the statements of the nurses, or the frequent mention of the crows coming by the window.
…or all the references to music (Janáček Sinfonietta), cats, books (Kafka, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, or Orwell’s 1984). I find 1Q84 per se to be a nice well-intended pun to Orwell’s 1984. What are these references’ meanings? Did Murakami intend to leave these details unexplained? In fact, for such a lengthy novel, the fact that there were all these questions unanswered, is kind of irritating for a devoted reader. But, oh well…this is how reality looks like too – with many questions left unanswered.
Pardon my Murakami-fan bias, but I think that he is a master of playing with energy in a way that makes the power of thought heavy and stimulates desire – the desire to get to know the deepest and darkest corners of yourself. The way the characters’ dilemmas are described, made me wonder about my own dilemmas. Quite often, I even identified myself to these dilemmas…
Yet, things are not meant to remain the same for eternity. They are challenged by different forces of the universe. In the case of 1Q84, these changes are brought by the Little People. Are they fictional? Who knows…fictional or not, there is a very thin line that divides them. It is Murakami’s style to make the unreal become real. The fictional world becomes reality, and the reality goes away, or hides, somewhere in parallel, incognito.
A bit of a critique for Murakami is that after such a long and at times slow reading, the ending comes a bit fast. Or maybe I was expecting more. What happened to Fuka-Eri? Did she just disappear? What about the meaning of ‘irretrievably lost’? What happened to that character associated with these words? Murakami could have made a bit more of an effort to connect the dots further and describe the ending a bit longer.
What happens to 1Q84? Also, can it become relevant to 2Q20 of modern times, especially in the midst of all the lifestyle changes due to the pandemics, climate change, racist/populist/white supremacist sentiments and more? I started to think more about this world…2Q20, in parallel to 2020 that I was expecting…and definitely not easy to connect these dots.
“There are certain meanings that are lost forever the moment they are explained in words.”
Connecting the dots is a major work while reading this piece too. It can feel satisfying, or totally confusing. This is why, for someone who is not at ease with dystopian novels, and is not familiar with Murakami’s work, I would not recommend starting with 1Q84. If you would like to get to know Murakami slowly, then start with Norwegian Woods. Then you can continue to dwell deeper into more philosophical or dystopian works such as 1Q84, or The Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.
What did you think while reading 1Q84? Share with us your insights in the comments below.