Let me start by saying that 1Q84 is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I stumbled across it one day after seeing a link to an interview with the author, Haruki Murakami, on the homepage of the Guardian’s website. I’m someone who reads a lot of books and thought I would have a read of the interview, even though I hadn’t read any of Murakami’s work before.
Murakami is a man who went out to do what he wanted to do and ignored his parents’ hopes for him. His parents wanted him to study hard and get what Murakami calls a ‘good job’, but instead, in his early twenties, he opted to open a jazz club.
His routine is also far from what you might call ‘normal’. Murakami gets up a 4am everyday, writes for six hours and then trains for marathons in the afternoons. After all that, he finally turns in at 9pm.
What is just as striking perhaps is that Muarakmi only decided he wanted to be a published writer in his late 20s. He hadn’t been dreaming of being a novelist since he was a teenager, or even when he was trying to find himself in his early twenties when he opened his jazz club.
One day it simply struck him that he was able to write a novel, whilst he was watching a baseball game on TV.
What struck me from the very first page of Book 1 of 1Q84 was just how eloquent his prose is. As many people have noted, it’s quite addictive. Some evenings I would start reading it and then in the next minute find that two and a half hours had gone by. His prose is as calming as it is eloquent. It has an almost meditative quality to it. I found myself being completely immersed in Murakami’s 1Q84 world, which takes its inspiration from George Orwell’s wonderful Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is just one of those books that is impossible to put down.
It took Murakami three years to write the novel’s 1000 pages, and you can see why. It seems as if not a single sentence or word is wasted. Therefore, it is even more incredible that he says he wrote the novel without any plan.
Murakami is a sensation in Japan. The dates of his book publications are treated by his fans like movie premieres. The first print run of 1Q84 sold out on day one of publication in Japan and sold one million copies in the first month. They flocked to pre-order his book, whilst all the details were being kept tightly under wraps. It has been called ‘a global event in itself’ by a Guardian reviewer. His huge success in Japan seems comparable with J.K. Rowling’s success in the UK with the Harry Potter series. These are books that are not just read, but adored.
However, it is not only his style that makes his latest novel a work of art. Murakami dedicates each chapter to a particular character. As the book goes on, you see these characters evolve, both in terms of the progression of the story and in terms of the novel as a piece of work. His characters are completely three-dimensional and you find that it is they who drive the story along, rather than the plot, which is something that I really appreciate in fiction.
Sometimes I would get lost in a daydream and wonder what was going to happen to Tengo and Aomame next, waiting impatiently for some free time where I could continue my journey with them. That is the sign of a brilliant novel: that story that keeps you wondering what’s going to happen next, even when you’re not reading it.
Perhaps the true beauty of this piece of art is that Murakami only provides a vehicle and it is the reader who must control it and see the characters and the story through their own eyes.
Perhaps too, this review is entirely irrelevant. Some call Murakami pretentious and say he is caught up in his own success, but I would argue that 1Q84 is a novel that invites you to read and experience it, rather than analyse it. As Murakami himself writes in the book, “if you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation.”
Ultimately, this is something much bigger than a novel. It is a work that promotes complete escapism to other worlds, invites profound thinking, and encourages self-discovery.