The 1100+ page tome that is Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 languished, taunting me from its high shelf, for close to two years before I finally decided to take the plunge. As per my usual rule, I reassured myself that I could reassess my zeal for undertaking such a large project at the 50-page mark. As it turned out, there was no way I was stopping after 50 pages. The characters and the vaguely fantastical feel of the story grabbed me straight away. I will admit to feeling very pleased with myself after I sailed through the first 400 pages or so, at which point I was overcome by the strong sense that Murakami was f-ing with me. “Ha ha,” he seemed to be saying, “Based on the first 1/3 of this novel, I bet you thought that all 1184 pages would be at least an equally riveting thrill-ride! Did you know it’s hard to write a really, really long novel that’s exciting the whole way through? I know I could have written 1Q84’s story in about 700 pages, but in order to have the biggest, fattest book on the bestseller shelf, I had to create pointless characters, describe them in excruciating detail, and hope that since you’d made it to the halfway mark of the novel you wouldn’t give up.” Curse you, Murakami. Believe it or not, I don’t care how many times a character takes a puff on his cigarette, what the cashier in the store was wearing, or the minute details of an inconsequential character’s childhood. Get. To. The. Point. Halfway through this book I hated Murakami. He draws you in with this compelling story about a parallel universe of some sort and a strange, but captivating woman assassin named Aomame. The other main character is a rather boring but likeable writer/teacher named Tengo, who is asked by a publisher friend to secretly rewrite a novel about a land of Little People who crawl out of dead goats’ mouths. Good start, right? Well, it all comes to a screeching halt with the introduction of a completely ridiculous and unbelievable (even in a parallel universe) character named Ushikawa. He is ugly beyond belief, a point that is hammered into us, the readers, over and over again for a purpose I was not able to discern. If you ignore the Ushikawa chapters (and he becomes a central character, so this is difficult), you’re left with: two lovers who have not seen or heard from each other since they held hands once as children; an immaculate conception; and a gang of elusive “Little People” who may or may not control the world’s affairs and whom you can’t help but imagine as the dwarves from Snow White. (The only thing they ever say is “Ho, ho”, which really doesn’t help.) Needless to say, this is unlike any novel I’d ever read. And to Murakami’s credit, once you climb out of the trough that is approximately pages 400-700, you are desperate to know how the whole mess ends. Personally, I would have liked a bit more closure to the novel, but it ends satisfactorily enough. If you are more of a fiction ‘traditionalist’ (i.e. you don’t like anything that requires you to stretch your imagination), stay away from 1Q84. However, if you’re into magical realism or science fiction, and you are a quick reader, I’d say give it a shot. If anything, you’ll feel an enormous sense of accomplishment when you finish it!
1Q84, by Haruki Murakami