The weird and enigmatic world of 1Q84

Haruki Murakami’s work was introduced to me by my Uncle, he is a designer and as such, in my eyes at least, is often at the leading edge of new trends. He gave me Dance, Dance, Dance to read and off I went twirling and spinning into the world of this unique author who takes you in and out of reality with such ease, you soon fall into his writing’s magic – at least if you allow yourself to just go with it.

I was a little unsure after the first novel, it was so unlike anything I’d ever read, but I was curious to know how he continued and whether there was some common thread among his novels, so I went for his well-known classic The Wind-up Bird Chronicle next.

In this volume Toru Okado is looking for a job, and while living through this in-between stage, in between jobs – his wife doesn’t return home one day thus he enters into a strange period where each of his interactions take on questionable qualities as he tries to navigate his days and understand what is happening around him.

If it sounds somewhat surreal, it is – but then aren’t those periods in life when we are neither here or there, in between one thing and another?  He finds an empty well in a yard near his apartment and enters it, just to dwell. Revelations come to him from people, from being in the well and from situations he encounters, even reading about this world and its strangeness almost normalises it, we adapt to it as readers.

Revelations came to me also, weird dreams of deep wells and immersing in blue pools of water and seeing things clearly.

And so to 1Q84, my beach read this summer. 1Q84 is an alternative world (and there we have the reference to George Orwell’s 1984 another alternative world). Murakami by now I have discovered is a creator of these worlds that look and feel exactly as the world we know, they are inhabited by the same characters, their protagonists have the same life, but reality has been altered somewhat and they usually spend the story trying to discover what that is and why things have suddenly changed.

Having now read three of his works, I have found in each of them a kind of ascent or descent involved in entering this parallel universe; in Dance, Dance, Dance it was the lift/elevator, in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle it was a descent to the bottom of the well and now in 1Q84 Aomame climbs down an expressway stairwell to street level, which seems to have been the portal to 1Q84 (although Janáček’s sinfonietta playing in the taxi may have had something to do with it).

Aomame is a loner, growing up in a Jehovah’s Witness family she had no real friends and rejected her family’s way of life early on. The one true friend she did have later in life met a tragic end which changed Aomame’s life; she couldn’t save her friend but through her skills and work she ensured that many other women were saved from a similar fate.

In alternate chapters we meet Tengo, an aspiring writer who agrees to edit and improve a book that has been nominated for an award. Naively he agrees, though he also feels something is compelling him to become involved against his better judgement. The stories of Aomame and Tengo follow a similar trajectory, there are many parallels between the two, not just their previous lives, but in the way events seem to happen simultaneously.

By the conclusion of Book Two Aomame’s and Tengo’s worlds are coming together again (as they did when the two were 10 years old). Tengo realises he too is in 1Q84 and it all has some link to the book he has edited, a world of two moons, where The Little People exist and the purpose of their air chrysalis has not yet become clear.

After 623 pages, I must now read Book Three to learn what happens next and tie up the threads of the story which certainly feel as if they are working towards some kind of weird revelation.

For a surreal trip, one almost guaranteed to affect your dream-life, pick up a Murakami if you dare, he is strangely addictive.

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36 thoughts on “The weird and enigmatic world of 1Q84

  1. This big night stand book is on the shelf waiting for me to get to it. I have the same hardback version as you. Glad to hear it’s interesting! I’m reading The Fountainhead now so really long books are off my list for a little while, but I will get to 1Q84. What are you reading this weekend? All I know is I need a books that’s a lot more optimistic than what I’m reading at the moment.

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    • Well I have 2 x 3 hour bus ride with the kids to the Musée d’Oceanographique in Monaco tomorrow, so taking the kindle to try and finish ‘The White Forest’ or might start ‘The Zenith’ or read a Kate Morton, an author I’ve not read before, can’t seem to get into anything this week – but 3 hours on a bus requires some distraction!

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  2. I read 1Q84 earlier this year with very mixed reactions. But I have to say that this is the book that will prove to be the most memorable one I read this year. In fact, I just completed a presentation about Murakami for a Writers on Writing report I had to do for a class I’m taking. He’s totally fascinating, as are his works!

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    • I know what you mean Candyce, I wasn’t even sure what I could share about him and his work and it is sure to be different to what anyone else has to say, but I feel a little like I have him in my stride now and his uniqueness is strangely compelling. The side effects are certainly interesting. 🙂

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  3. I really like this post, I’ve read Norweigan Wood but I think it almost doesn;t count because Murakami doesn’t like it and is supposed to be different from his usual style. I do have both The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84 ready – which is better to read first?

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    • I think 1Q84 is a natural progression from The Wind-up Bird Chronicle so I’d recommend reading the older work first, by which time you’ll possibly find the later work easier to delve into.

      I gave a friend ‘What I Talk about When I Talk About Running’ which he really enjoyed but also not quite typical – its nonfiction and Murakami shares his obsessive marathon habits and compares them to his writing.

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    • That’s great to know, wow! I’m looking forward to the last book, I was comforted knowing there was more when I got to the end – what an incredible imagination and yet it also feels in control. Which is your favourite Murakami book?

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  4. I really did enjoy 1Q84 immensely. I was hooked on the story of Tengo and Aomame from the start and went into Book 3 with a head full of questions and hoping it would be as good as Books 1 and 2 – and for me it was. It’s the work of such a wonderful imagination and yet written with such a flowing, easy style that it feels like the most natural thing in the world to immerse yourself in the worlds he creates. I hope you enjoy Book 3 as much as I did!

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  5. These sound amazing Claire…I love the whole fantasy/reality thing…I love reading your reviews! You always lead me somewhere unexpected…towards authors/works I’ve never heard of….will be adding these to my evergrowing ‘to read’ list…. thanks 🙂

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    • Thanks Jen, I am happy to have introduced you to another interesting writer, one I am sure you will hear more about now he has come across your radar. Murakami is one of the favourite nominees for this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature – so watch this space!

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  6. I’ve heard mixed reviews for 1Q84, but I will say that Murakami’s books have had the most people come up and talk to me on public transit! I just finished reading Kafka on the Shore (which was a well written, if odd, read) and so many people asked me about it and 1Q84, it was like I’d joined some sort of secret underground! I will definitely have to check out more of his work in the future.

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    • He is definitely an intriguing story writer though not everyone’s cup of tea, even in Japan I believe he took a while before becoming mainstream, but with a Nobel Prize for Literature nomination, I think he is only going to continue to become more widely read.

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  7. What a lovely review. I admire Murakami’s work and have read most of it with the exception of this latest title. I’ve been looking forward to it but have to wait until I have the time to invest in it. He is one of the very few authors that once I start reading, I can read nothing else because I can’t put his book down till the last page.

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    • I agree, it’s almost like writing a story, once you immerse, you can’t come out of the zone until the story is complete and then it stays with you for days afterwards (or at least the after effects). It makes me wonder how it is for him writing in those worlds, he has certainly perfected the art of creative immersion and found a way to carry his readers with him.

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  8. I always feel I miss something with Murakami’s work. Wind up Bird Chronicle was great but seemed to run out of steam a bit towards the end. However I may be tempted to have another crack at it, as you are a fan.

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    • Try 1Q84, I think you will like it – sometimes getting lost can be due to the writer’s process, did they go off somewhere in the middle and get lost themselves I wonder? – One thing is sure, in this latest book, there’s no going off track, it’s very intricately plotted and the twin stories follow each other with a precision that is astonishing. You’ll be left wanting to read Book 3 I am sure.

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      • I think I’m already wanting to read book 3 now. However due to my love of order, and understanding a story I’ll start at the beginning. Thanks for another informative and inspiring review.

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  9. I still haven’t read a Murakami, and I wasn’t sure about starting with 1Q84 because so many people talked of the length and some said it’s difficult. You’ve put a different light on it for me, however, and I can see myself really enjoying it.

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    • Maybe because I’d learned with Murakami that its necessary to come to it open minded, but I found this entire story compelling and not at all too out there, he keeps the reader with the story the whole way along. I have a friend who only reads one book a year and he’s just borrowed 1Q84 off me and English is his third language – this book aint that difficult 🙂

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  10. Pingback: Who or what is really harming literature? « Word by Word

  11. I love that you are reading this at the beach! I’m struggling with 1Q84 at the moment, to be honest… it just doesn’t have the same magic as his other books. Tedium and page after page of tedium! (and Little People!)

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  12. Pingback: #WritersWednesday: November 7 – 1Q84 | Of Glass & Paper

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  16. wanted to stop by and thank you ever so much for recommending this book to our infamous Ste J! Whilst book shopping with him recently this title caught my eye. He shared your thoughts and opinions on it which further encouraged me to begin asap. Even though I’ve only started a week ago, I’m almost finished with Book One and am in literary heaven! Thank you again…

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    • Wonderful, thank you so much for coming and telling me, Murakami creates exceptional worlds that could almost be real and these volumes slowly build up to the point, where for me anyway Book 3 even had pace! If you like just a touch of magic realism, he is definitely one to have on the shelf.

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      • I have to agree with you wholeheartedly! Murakami does indeed create “exceptional worlds”!! I usually don’t have much time to read but am *making* time for this literary decadence (I simply cannot put it down for too long)! Thank you again, so much, for your awesome recommendation!

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  17. I entered Murakami’s world through The Strange Library and now I am stepping into Kafka on the Shore. I agree with your view on how Murakami’s surreal twists impact you and you start on your own surreal journey remembering or perhaps just imagining. Haruki said somewhere that when he writes, he feels like his reader is feeling. When he is writing, he is a reader too – guess that is one of the reasons his work leaves such powerful impression on our minds. Do stop by to read my review of The Strange Library here….http://shalzmojo.in/2017/03/guestblogging-book-review-strange-library-haruki-murakami-book-set-japanchinaturkey/

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