1Q84 Book Review
[Editor’s note: Trigger warning for sexual assault, suicide]
1Q84 follows two main characters, Tengo and Aomame. Tengo is an aspiring writer who gets brought on to a somewhat illegal scheme. His editor, Komatsu, has found a manuscript that, despite being very engaging, has horrible grammar and poor descriptions. Tengo agrees to polish up the book, getting paid as a ghostwriter, and the author, Fuka Eri, also agrees to the arrangement.
Aomame is a sports instructor who teaches self-defense classes and works as an assassin for a woman called “the Dowager.” She uses an ice pick to kill her victims, making the murder look like a heart attack or another natural death. Early on in the story, Aomame notices that things are changing around her, and she figures out that she has somehow been transported into an alternate dimension, the titular 1Q84.
At first, following the two characters’ stories feel like reading two different books at once, but they slowly come together, in both theme and characters. For the first two-thirds of the book, Tengo and Aomame neither meet nor are even aware that the other has much of anything to do with the plot. The final third of the book links them together, and it is also where we meet our third protagonist, Ushikawa. Ushikawa is okay. He is not allotted nearly as much time for us to get to know him, and he does not really figure out much of the story; he is just used as a way to help the audience piece everything together, and even then, I feel like I could have figured it all out with just Tengo and Aomame.
That is what really carries 1Q84: its characters. They are all odd people about whom you would like to know more as you read through the story. We get at least one crazy and life-changing story from every major character, except Fuka Eri, the author of Air Chrysalis. Her story is delivered through the fantasy story she wrote (is it really just a story…?). Most of 1Q84 centers around characters talking about their pasts and possible futures and reminiscing about their lives. This is where every Murakami book comes into its own; there is something bizarrely soothing and exciting at the same time about people talking about horrible pasts as calmly as telling others about their day at work. This could have the side effect of making the pacing about as fast as a boring class on a Friday, but it never feels that way. I can’t think of a time that the slow pace was ever irritating, or held back the book. However, there are some points where I feel that characters should have way more of a reaction than they do to certain situations.
There are a few issues I should mention. They might not be issues to some, but I feel that they need to be addressed. This book is nearly a thousand pages long, slowly paced, and dense. Despite its length, I did not have much trouble getting through it. The other problem is a bit more troublesome. One of the major themes in the book is rape and abuse, and 1Q84 is not afraid to discuss it frankly. Aomame kills men who abuse their husbands as a way of revenge for her best friend who died of suicide after being driven to it by her husband (Aomame’s first kill was the aforementioned husband.) In addition, Aomame’s main target is a man who has raped several underage girls and also leads the religious group of Air Chrysalis. All of this is handled very well; it is not gratuitous or sleazy. There is also one particular moment in the book that is questionable at best and incredibly creepy at worst. If this was in the hands of a lesser author, it would be a deal-breaker. It is not here, but be warned.
In the end, these issues do not diminish the quality of what is otherwise a surreal, deep, and excellently written book. 8.5/10—check it out!
1Q84 was written by Haruki Murakami, the author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, and Norwegian Wood.