Author’s doorstop of a novel, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 is nothing if not ambitious in its scope and heft.
At times thrilling, at times boring, the story follows the separate—albeit connected—storylines of Aomame and Tengo, two 29-year-old residents of Tokyo. Aomame is an emotionally walled-off woman who works as a personal trainer, specializing in self-defense. On the side, she dispenses men who abuse women (as assigned by one of her rich clients, the dowager) with a unique technique that makes the killings look like natural causes. (Lizbeth Salander would be proud.) Tengo is a teacher at a cram school and an aspiring writer. An editor friend pulls him into to a scheme to ghost write an entry for a prestigious new author award. His polished version of a fantastical short novel not only wins the prize and becomes a best seller; it also draws the attention of a secret organization (upon which the story’s elements are based). Through a series of plot twists, the two main characters eventually discover how their lives are connected. The last third of the novel spends time waiting for their lives to meet up.
The chapters stay pretty consistent with either Aomame or Tengo’s point of view through most of the book. This allows the reader to spend quality time with each character, becoming more invested in their lives along the way. In doing so, the reader also wonders how these two lives will intersect. When the reveal happens, the reader will notice good clues having been placed along the way. However, once this reveal to the reader happens, both characters suddenly think things about the other as if they’ve know all along—which is not how the story begins. In the third section of the book, the writer chooses to introduce a third POV for certain chapters—which only serves to bring in info the author couldn’t solve any other way. This feels like a bit of a cheat. Also, during this character’s chapters, we begin with him and occasionally slip into a different character at various points. Another distracting slip.
The fantastical elements serve as a core of the story, and if these types of things don’t work for you in fiction, don’t worry, they don’t overpower the narrative. They’re handled in such a way that you’ll believe them. Two moons in the alternate 1984 (dubbed 1Q84 by Aomame)? Sure. Little people who materialize out of a portal to weave air chrysalises? Why not? These type of elements tend to rub me the wrong way—unless I’m reading about a completely different world (say middle earth or a different planet)—but here they never overstay their welcome. The author, however, should have found a way to actually explain them. By the time the little people appear, you’ve heard about them; however, they come with a bad reputation that the author never capitalizes on. And since their storyline is one of several left dangling, you might be left with the feeling that you shouldn’t bother caring in the first place.
Line by line, the book is a joy to read—even the parts that drag. The nimble translation offers no hint that you’re reading something in translation. But for all of the interesting parts of the novel, the ending is ultimately unsatisfying. There are so many intriguing plot points working towards the end that it feels like the author took the quick, easy way out—leaving most of the plot lines unresolved. This might be a way to leave the door open for a sequel, but the present ending brings things to a close in a way that does not suggest the two main characters would be a part of this.