1Q84: Book One

1Q84: Book One
Murakami Haruki

Read along partner this is how she fight start describes our current joint project as “briefly awaited and barely anticipated.” That’s probably about right, though I have it on good authority that at least two others are reading, or at least trying to read, along with us. Whether this will result in a flurry of intelligent and witty blog banter remains to be seen. (I advise the gentle reader not to hold his or her breath.) For now, I recommend reading kamo’s first post (linked above), as it sets the stage nicely for what will follow. My own musings are going to follow mostly off of his initial talking points, with some additions as I am further along now than he was then. Though at time of writing I am approaching halfway through, I will also mirror the three volume breakdown of the original Japanese. Note: this post is wholly spoiler free. That may not continue in others, so I will report accordingly in the introduction.

One mundane bit before diving into literary hoo-haw: I have the Knopf hardback edition of 1Q84, a Christmas present from my dad a couple years back. It is one of the most beautiful books I own, with the tissue-like dust jacket, the covers, the mirror-image page numbers, etc. I am most impressed with it. At the same time, I mostly own paperbacks for a reason: Price and weight. Well, two reasons: Price, weight, and storage considerations. Er, among the reasons I have paperbacks are price, weight, storage considerations, and that tacky living-in-mom’s-basement look that comes from a wall of creased and cheap SF editions. At the moment, weight is the big concern. This tome is way too heavy to be taking on buses. I am probably risking nerve damage in my wrists, but such is the price we pay.

On to literature. In many ways, magical realism is the hardest genre to come to terms with for grizzled Hard SF veterans. The author is allowed to drop in whatever surreal weirdness fits the mood, but is under no obligation to provide rigorous underpinnings for any of it. This can be frustrating for a reader trained to expect explanation and logic for whatever handwavium may appear; it is a running battle I face with this sort of story. 1Q84 is arguably the most science fictional book Murakami has written however, with at least a modicum of cause and effect in place. There are reasons why Aomame and Tengo find themselves in the reality that they do and mechanisms that get them there. It’s not Hal Clement, but I find myself more satisfied with the narrative progression than I have in the past.

In fact, I have been impressed with the control Murakami has over this book. I have pretty much loved all of his novels, but admit that there are long stretches where imagination and momentum bridge the gaps between comprehension. I won’t even pretend to understand everything that happens in these books, often closing them at the end and wondering what just happened. (In an interview I cannot now find, Murakami recommends serious rereading and says that, even as the author, he turns up new connections each time he reads his texts for editing. I have yet to try this.) 1Q84 is a bit different. Whether he knows he has the page count to be specific, is making a conscious effort to be more transparent, has honed his skill enough to know exactly how much to say, or is just letting things flow this way, I get the overwhelming feeling that each word, each thought, and each plot point is exactly the way he wants it.

How many times to we read a book and see the seams where the author knows he has to get from Point A to Point B, but doesn’t quite know how? How many endings do we read where the author scrambles to put things together or to escape a self-inflicted jam? How often do we let flair and exuberance cover a plot that is slightly out of control? I’m not trying to be a jerk here – as a musician I freely admit to finessing my way through tight spots and BS’ing tipsy crowds. It happens. But so far in 1Q84, it hasn’t happened. I don’t know why characters speak and act the way they do yet, but Murakami exudes the confidence that everything has a purpose. Yes, even the drunken buggery.

It’s a good thing too, because 1Q84 is an unending parade of bait and switches. It is, for example, supposed to be a love story. Well, that’s easy, one might say, these two characters are obviously going to be it. Wait, now this other person has been introduced and there’s some tension, it must be them! No, well, now it seems the tables have turned. This is the sort of internal dialogue going on through the entire book so far. By the end of Book One, I can already see several paths that things could take, all of them logical, but none more likely than the others. My perceptions of Aomame got flipped on their heads three or four times in the first fifty pages, then again several times after that. Murakami is clearly winding things up, but I can’t tell if they will continue to their logical conclusion, or if he will spin them off in a whole new direction.

This has been a bit vague. Book One largely just sets the stage though, with most of the really crazy stuff dropping in Book Two. Thus, like the novel itself, my reactions are largely laying the groundwork for more detailed posts to come. There will be plenty to elaborate on soon. (Also plenty to spoil, which is another reason I’m not being too detailed right now.) Stay tuned for more.

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One thought on “1Q84: Book One

  1. I’m a bit behind schedule, having finished Book One just today. Since you didn’t include spoilers in our post, I’ll honor that in my comment and keep things general. I was quite interested in the significance of the malformed and asymmetrical, in the relationship between reality and art (both music and literature), in the exploration of memory and identity (both individual and social), and the depiction of religion.

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