Reading 1Q84, an epic challenge

1Q84 has been sitting on my shelf for a few years. I’ve attempted to read it twice and failed both times. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good read, but my attention seemed to wain somewhat. The third time was different. I was going to finish Haruki Murakami’s nearly 1000-page epic.

The book is set over the course of 1984. Part 1 is set in Spring, 2 is Summer and our finale happens in the Winter months. As the name suggests, Murakami created 1Q84 as a love letter to George Orwell’s 1984. There are similarities (dystopian future, mysterious forces etc) but this isn’t a Japanese take on the novel.

We’re quickly introduced into the worlds of personal trainer Aomame, and an author by the name of Tengo. Tengo and Aomame are unwittingly thrown into an alternative universe. Everything looks the same except slight differences in history. Of course, they are trying to find away back to their reality. Chapters flip flop between the two characters, telling different stories but set in the same world. Each chapter would usually finish on a small cliff-hanger to encourage you to keep going. The reading sessions were unusually long for me, taking in upwards of 100-125 pages at a time.

When you’ve read this, the cover makes more sense.

Throughout the book Murakami meticulously plots out the story and moves it at a comfortable pace for the readers. Tengo is unaware of this alternate universe for over half of the book and when he does, it is a revelation. On the opposite side of the coin is Aomame. She discovers 1Q84 almost instantly and while it doesn’t break from how well written the story is, it feels like a cheap way of getting her character where she needed to be.

Moments in the book were brilliant. I loved how the two main characters indirectly interacted in each other’s stories and how the plot twist and turned from the first page until the very end. For every great moment of story, there was a consistent retelling of a handful of childhood memories. Paragraphs are regurgitated over and over to such a point I developed a rather noticeable wince every time I read about two 10-year-old children holding hands or long door to door visits collecting NHK subscriptions.

1Q84 – a story hidden in ego?

Tengo, is a writer. He spends the first part of the book trimming down a novel. Cutting away the excess fat, to leave what is an inevitable best seller. Advice Murakami could have taken into consideration when writing the book. I feel 1Q84 is very much a victim of its own ego. It could easily be a great work of fiction if the book was a third of the size.

None of the story would’ve been sacrificed, simply reducing the number of times these historical memories were sold as important plot points would have done the trick. Not forgetting the absurdly long quote from Sakhalin Island which Tengo recites. It felt as if Murakami used it to fill a word count. As it is, the story is undeniably great although presented in an unnecessarily bloated way. I was happy to finally finish but I won’t be rushing to re-read it.


If you want to take on 1Q84 – here you go (Amazon UK)

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