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Grapey Book Club: 1Q84, Haruki Murakami

Join Clara Kristanda in her review of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84.

Please note the following article contains spoilers

In this hazy, 1157-page novel, air chrysalides are vase-shaped wombs, woven in the night out of threads of air, and used to birth psychic mediums for the plot-driving, supernatural “Little People” – although there is deliberate elusiveness on who, or what, they are with regards to their morality and intentions. Haruki Murakami, then, must be one himself, as to pull 1Q84 together into the concrete block it is, he brings forth his threads of multiple narratives and delicious meanderings on love and religion to create a novel about… something, vindicating himself from authorial coherency with one of the novel’s mantras, “if you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation.” 

This novel, originally published as a trilogy in 2009-10, is now published and read as a single absolute unit, which took me a month or so to consume, yet if you asked me what it was about, I still couldn’t fully describe its overall value, vision, meaning or genre to you. Do not be fooled by its Orwellian title – I find it hard to find any political or ethical argument Murakami puts forward here.

The best I could do to describe 1Q84 is to paint it in its large brush strokes: it is, in part, a tug on the boundaries of realism and sci-fi, set in the double-mooned titular year 1Q84. It is, in part, literature’s longest and most delusional slow-burn from the double perspective of Aomame, a hitwoman with an ultra-rich benefactor, and Tengo, an aspiring novelist who teaches Mathematics at a cram school. And it is, in part, a meta-commentary on the process of creating prose.

Now, assuming that Murakami (as opposed to someone who just likes to waffle) is the postmodern surrealist, the lack of point to this novel is the point, as a lot of expectations he sets up are either made self-aware or redundant. He sets Aomame up with a gun a third of the way through, commenting, “Once a gun appears in a story, it has to be fired;” in the 600+ remaining pages, she never fires. The leader of the Little People’s religious cult seems like your average abusive/crazed sociopath leading on the basis of “superhuman abilities,” and he is, but he’s also later proven to be a legitimate telepathic medium for the equally-as-real Little People. Even from an authorial perspective, Murakami contradicts himself, objectifying his female characters (in his infamous style) by elaborately describing most of their breasts – yet, 1Q84 is a novel that believes in justice for domestic violence survivors, with all its abusive characters winding up dead. The non-truth is the point, and though I hate using the word, post-modern – that beautiful adjective that means absolutely nothing – 1Q84 is probably the best novel to slap this word onto in a good way.

But it takes a lot of convincing for readers to slog through a book about nothing. Perhaps Murakami wouldn’t get the bestselling label of “postmodernism” without his writing style, which sublimely balances profoundness and accessibility. Separate from whatever 1Q84 is, and overlaid on top of it, rest mounds and mounds of utterly dreamlike, yet simple and sensical little descriptions of humanity. What he’s used to convince the masses, me included, to turn the page another 1156 times, are the following glimpses into the soul: “In this whole, wide world, the only thing that treats me so kindly is math;” “the late morning jabbed deep into her eyeballs;” “a young couple, probably students, sitting at the bar engaged in an intense and intimate conversation, their foreheads practically touching.” This novel is a brick, yes, but in this way, the pages glide by.

1Q84, to me, is less of a novel and more of a series of small-moment photographs with threads of big-concept commentaries, patchworked together into the air chrysalis it is. It appreciates the “real-life” absurdity of the state of the 1984-and-later Western-influenced world, plaiting together narratives on art, culture, religion, and memory. Are its characters intriguing and are its plots anything special? Circumstantially, and yes, for how Murakami’s managed to string together diverse lives under the same two moons. Is 1Q84 conceptually ground-breaking? No, and you’d really have to convince me otherwise, though that may or may not be the point. Does it exist for a purpose? Sure, if you believe that the purpose of art is to simply exist. 

Finally, would I actively recommend this novel to a friend? Probably not, unless they already had it tentatively shelved on their Goodreads profile. That being said, the fact remains that this novel is a bestseller and that you’ve read this far. This probably means you do have it on your Goodreads, or that you’ve already read 1Q84 and you’re reading this review to make your mind up about something unresolved here. To you, I say: just read it. To you, I say unless you’re a moralist, I don’t think 1Q84 has enough shortcomings to qualify as a “bad” work of art. It’s readable and enjoyable, which is what books are supposed to be. 

Under two genre-bending, albeit slow-moving moons, Murakami makes it easy for us to get lost, literally, in his alternate world of 1Q84. It could have 3.5, but I’m going to be nice here:

4/5 Grapes


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