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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: 1Q84

Author: Haruki Murakami
Translators: Jay Rubin, Philip Gabriel
JP Ed.: Shinchosha; US Ed.: Knopf
925 pages (hardcover ed.)

Spoiler warning: Review contains spoilers for the whole of 1Q84. Read on with caution.

The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.

A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.

As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.

Female assassins. Literary hoaxes. Religious cults with weapons of mass destruction. Annoying NHK fee collectors. Small people that come out at night to create chrysalis like out of a dream. Secret passageways to parallel worlds. Kinky sex. Kidnappings. All this and more can be found in Haruki Murakami's 1Q84, and as it gains more and more critical acclaim across the board, it's easy to see why this book has spellbound readers and critics alike - this blog included.

This is one of the best books released in English this year. That is not an exaggeration; 1Q84 really is that excellent. It is Murakami at his best – a wonderful mixture of fantasy and drama, romance and horror, magical realism and modern literature. It is, at its heart, a mystery wrapped up in about a hundred different layers. Plus, it creates a world like ours but not, accented by the double moons that Aomame sees, and inhabits it with a cast of characters as colorful as any group of real individuals.

If I may even be so arrogant as to quote myself from my own review of the novel on Goodreads, this just shows how powerful a book this is: "I finished this 900+ page book in four days; I couldn't bear the thought of putting it down for too long because I just had to read the next chapter. This is a fantastic explosive mind-bending work of fiction and how can this not be one of the best novels of 2011? The more I think about it, the more the various pieces seamlessly fit together in one tight narrative. Not a single page is wasted. This is just another example of why Murakami is one of the best writers in this recent era of fiction, end of discussion."

You guys. That is 900+ pages read in just four days. By comparison, it took me a little over two weeks to get through the fantasy behemoth that was George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons, and that wasn't very much more in terms of page count. This is because 1984 is just so utterly engaging that putting it down for an extended period of time simply isn't an option.

So, if you're an anime fan who enjoys series like Ghost In The Shell: SAC or films like Paprika, stories that twist the mind and make you question the rules of life itself, then there's no doubt in my mind 1Q84 is the novel for you. Like a hundred-plus episode epic anime series, it may intimidate you with its mere size alone (I must admit I was glad to not be lugging it around in my bookbag anymore when I finished!) but once you and the characters inside have crossed officially into the other world where everything has changed and two moons hang in the sky, the strange realm known as 1Q84, then you will not regret making the journey. Any fan of Japanese literature should be reading Haruki Murakami; this is a great place to start.