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In Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

By Isabelle Cardy

1Q84 is captivated by the entwined journeys of its two protagonists, Tengo and Aoname. In the shifting world of Japan in 1984, Tengo, taking on a dubious ghost-writing project, is unknowingly fated to be caught up in the world of its mysterious author – a young girl whose past unravels his habitual and placid life.

Meanwhile, Aoname, beginning to notice odd discrepancies in the world around her, begins to realise she has entered a parallel world, one she labels 1Q84. With this set up, 1Q84 slowly begins to unravel the convergences between these two characters and two worlds. Convergences which reveal a subversive universe of oddities: an infamous religious cult who instigated a shoot-out with the police; a reclusive dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideous investigator intent on Aonames’ secrets; and an epic love story. 

In 1Q84, then, Murakami lives up to his reputation as a titan of contemporary fiction. 1Q84 is an awe-inspiring amalgamation of genres, stories and worlds and a novel imbued with the power of its own speculative nature. Precisely because Murakami wishes not to label it romance, magical realism, crime-thriller or dystopia, 1Q84 is so intriguing. 

1Q84 beguiles the reader into submission to its mammoth 928-page count. Certainly, don’t be put off by its enormity, as I nearly was, for it is in the novel’s sprawling pages that Murakami performs such reflexive and diverse writing.  Based on this notion of two parallel and novelistic worlds, 1984 and 1Q84, and two protagonists, Murakami is able to take extreme liberties with the notions of fate, love, power and the self. It is this that justifies the page count. 1Q84 remains unlabelled, in purpose and design, and these 928 pages open a world which concedes to your imagination.

Disregarding the tight world of Orwell’s 1984, Murakami presents a landscape that effectively reflects the hybridity, subtlety and confusion of a modern world and its readers. Indeed, side-by-side with its darker secrets, 1Q84 is filled with immense fun and vivacity. I often found myself taking upon multiple roles: a reader pining for the fulfilment of romance; a sleuth uncovering the connections between Tengo and Aoname; a historian seeking to understand the tumultuous politics of Murakami’s world. As such, Murakami’s novel has a bounding life-force. The world-building is truly deserving of its many pages. Filled with immense nuance, Murakami’s writing is alive with important ideas and creativity.

So if you’ve read Orwell’s classic, 1984, and are intrigued, as I was, by a decadent Japanese novel sharing (in part) its’ name and influence; enjoy a dark, mysterious plot-line; or merely strive to will some time away in the deeply weird and fantastical world of Murakami, this novel is for you. Certainly, sometimes a classic spawns a conversation which it, least of all, expected. 1Q84 is the reply to this. As Aoname well notes: ‘“Q is for question mark.” A world that bears a question.” Murakami invites you to seek what the answer to this sprawling question may be.

Good For: Speculative, Dark, Fantasy, Magical Realism, Retellings