1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (Book 1)

I’ve just finished the first book of Murakami’s latest novel, 1Q84. The whole work is a massive tome, nearly 1000 pages altogether, so I thought I’d write down my impressions of each of the three books separately. These thoughts are therefore just half-formed and I hope I’ll be able to express them better when I’ve finished the whole novel.

The book is set in 1984, as the title suggests, and there are many connections with George Orwell’s novel, although I’m not sure yet where these are leading. The story takes place in the recognisable world of Murakami’s novels, with its own peculiar atmosphere, in which surreal events disturb the otherwise quiet and ordered life of the central male character. In this case, the narrator is Tengo, an aspiring novelist and maths teacher, who is persuaded by his editor Komatsu to join him in a literary scheme based on an unusual story written by an unknown seventeen-year-old girl.

The novel is also about a parallel world entered by the main female character, Aomame, whose story is told in every second chapter, alternating with Tengo’s story throughout the first book. ‘1Q84’, as Aomame calls it, is virtually identical to our reality. At first Aomame doesn’t realise anything has changed, but she gradually notices small, unsettling differences.

At the moment, I’m enjoying Tengo’s story the most, as the characters seem more real to me. I like Tengo (he’s a quiet observer suddenly finding himself involved in literary fraud) and Fuka-Eri, the seventeen-year-old girl, is also interesting – I like the abrupt and direct way she speaks. I also enjoy the discussion in this section of writing and re-writing, showing how a literary work can be a collaboration. However, in Aomame’s story, the characters seem as if they’re from an American film. They are all tough and don’t show much emotion and they speak in wise-cracks. The criminal world to which she belongs seems to me straight out of fiction or cinema (although I don’t often read crime novels). Aomame’s section of the novel sometimes seems like a collection of images and archetypes. I do like the parallel-world aspect of her story though, as the ways in which 1Q84 differs from 1984 are imaginative and intriguing and I’ll be interested to learn more about them.

Much of the plot of 1Q84 revolves around religious cults – fundamentalism and radicalism, and the secrecy and corruption surrounding them – and I find these sections the most compelling. The ways people become involved in cults and the experience of being indoctrinated are very interesting to me, and I hope the next part of the novel will look deeper into this topic (until now, we’ve mostly heard about the cult from the outside).

A final point I’ve noticed about this novel (and I feel a bit weird saying this, wondering if I’m overreacting) is that it’s very much written from a typically male point of view and I don’t think it’s the most feminist book ever. Normally I enjoy reading books with a variety of styles and outlooks, that include both masculine and feminine ways of looking at the world, but there’s something about the tone of this one that just doesn’t engage me. I’ll have to see at the end of the book if this was a major issue or just a small aspect of the book that didn’t really bother me.

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