Disclaimer: This post is my opinion of Murakami’s work and it will be full of spoilers. If you have not yet read the book and do not appreciate spoilers, please skip this post. Instead of reading this you can go check out Geri’s game, or Alma, or how fascinating differences can be. Or just read about the day a venti skinny peppermint mocha tried to kill me. Your call.
1Q84 is a novel by Haruki Murakami originally published in Japan in three volumes but released as a single volume in the US. It’s an international best seller and it’s Murakami’s 12th published book. The letter Q and the number 9 are homophones in Japanese. The title is a play on the Japanese pronunciation of the year 1984, a reference to George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eight-Four.
In all honesty, after learning all that about it, I had really high hopes when I started reading this book. I had been trying to get my hands on it for quite some time and was eager to know what was so amazing about it. Thinking back I realize I set my expectations too high, and that’s never a good thing. The best thing is to have low expectations, so you can never get disappointed. But some things are easier said than done.
The novel opens with a very vague first paragraph. It doesn’t cause an impact and things start very slowly. For a long time I felt lost, not knowing where the story was going or what was the connection with Nineteen Eight-Four. There’s a lot of repetition throughout the chapters, including information that is given again and again, as if I was not capable of retaining information as I read the book. The first two books go back and forth between two different point of views: Aomame’s and Tengo’s. The third book introduces a third point of view: Ushikawa’s. Bits of information are dropped here and there but the reader is left wondering what the H is really happening. And yes, good books do not review all their secrets at once, and curiosity does move you forward and makes you eager to know what happens next, but too little information can be frustrating.
At times there was too much telling when a simple showing would suffice. One example is when Tengo is cooking. It is explained to the reader how that was not a chore to him, dishes are explained to specific details, and it’s said how the character likes to use this time to think about things. Honestly, I don’t think it was necessary, and it even slowed me down. Just show me Tengo thinking while chopping one thing. That’s all I need.
I also felt that characters reached the right conclusions way too easily. Ushikawa, for example, when investigating why the dowager helps victims of domestic violence, concludes that the dowager’s daughter did not die of illness, but that she took her own life. Really? Is that the most reasonable conclusion? I would have thought the daughter had probably died as a victim of domestic violence; that the violence she suffered either left her to die from injuries inflicted on her by the abuser or had led her to give up hope and commit suicide. That would have been a more reasonable way for a character to reflect on the dowager’s real motives.
Then, as we get closer to the end of the book, things seem to get sloppier. We have the narrator’s POV during Aomame’s POV, which was not a resource used throughout the book, so it was just odd it was dropped there all of a sudden. It was as if the author couldn’t think of a way to deliver the message to the reader. In Tengo’s POV we have another character telling his story, and for a chunk of the chapter it becomes his POV instead of Tengo’s. Then in Ushikawa’s POV, in a chapter he’s being tortured and blindfolded, we have the name of the torturer, which is something Ushikawa couldn’t possibly know, being dropped from nowhere. We, readers, know who that person is, but Ushikawa shouldn’t know. And we shouldn’t have a description of the aggressor closing his eyes or anything like that, since the chapter was supposed to be from Ushikawa’s POV, relating only what Ushikawa could hear or sense (he’s blindfolded, after all). And in chapter 29 (book 3), since it says the chapter is from Aomame’s POV, we shouldn’t have the whole chapter narrated from Tengo’s POV.
Those little things really bothered me. Maybe some of them are due to translation issues, but I doubt all of them are. And I know it’s a book written in a different language through the eyes of someone who lives in a different culture, but that shouldn’t change things that much. But the most frustrating part, for me, was that one of the main characters is a writer! He talks about writing, he talks about fixing issues with a book written by someone else, a book where details are not explained. His editor tells him that when something new is introduced, something people don’t yet know about it, it must be explained as well as possible. He talks about those things and makes such silly mistakes. He introduces elements we do not have in this world we live in, and does not provide us a good explanation, or even a good image. He leaves his readers confused at times, when they needn’t be.
Other than that, I do think the book has a nice story in it. I don’t think it is as great as some make it seem, though. Sometimes I wonder why a particular book is a best seller, and what makes people thinks something is so great. I have already reached the conclusion that being a best seller does not guarantee a book will be good, but I’m still curious as to what draws people’s attention to it so much. Don’t take me wrong, the book does have good points, but overall, I’m not as happy with it as I hoped I’d be.
So, did you read the book? What did you think of it? Have you read any other books by Murakami?
“That’s what the world is , after all: an endless battle of contrasting memories.”
“Even if we could turn back, we’d probably never end up where we started.”
“Most people are not looking for provable truths. As you said, truth is often accompanied by intense pain, and almost no one is looking for painful truths. What people need is beautiful, comforting stories that make them feel as if their lives have some meaning. Which is where religion comes from.”
“Perhaps this was the wisdom with which a child in her position survived: by minimizing her wounds–staying as small as possible, as nearly transparent as possible.”
“(…) but if she actually put it into words, the facts contained in the ‘something’ might irretrievably become more definite as facts, so she wanted to postpone that moment, if only briefly.”
“It is not that the meaning cannot be explained. But there are certain meanings that are lost forever the moment they are explained in words.”