Book Review: Hakuri Murakami’s 1Q84

It was the cover that hooked me, first. I picked up Hakuri Murakami’s 1Q84 at a bookstore in my hometown last month. It sat in an upright display, and I was immediately drawn in by the strength and clarity of the cover’s design. I picked it up and, in violation of that old adage about judgment, and bought it immediately.

1Q84, named in clear homage to Orwell’s dystopian standard, 1984, is the story of a woman named Aomame, who, through a series of improbable events, comes to believe that she has left her own reality and entered into a new world, one with only slight differences from her  own. She dubs this new reality ‘1Q84”, (Q and 9 are homophones in Japanese), as “the world that bears a question”. As Aomame investigates the nature of her new world, the strings of the inexplicable “Little People” begin to tighten around her life.

The book engages themes of murder, faith, the nature of reality, the power of narrative storytelling, and above all, and I mean all: love. Clocking in at 1200 pages, Murakami takes plenty of space to discuss all of these in great length.

I like the book for its craft more than for its contents, honestly. Murakami’s writing has a velvet-softness that seeps into my head like butter into a fresh piece of bread. He’s one of the few authors I’ve read that uses repetition in a way that didn’t pull me out of the reading—There are a few characters with emblematic quirks of phrase that keep showing up—and the rhythm of the prose is unparalleled. The quality of the English translation makes me wonder what kind of wonderful experience Japanese readers had with this in its native language.

As wonderfully evocative as Murakami’s prose is, the storytelling in 1Q84 is a bit stilted. There are chapters of largely redundant storytelling, conversations of distractingly wooden dialogue, and a red-herring the likes of which I’ve never seen.

For his storytelling faults, when Murakami is on point, he is one of the best writers I’ve read recently, and 1Q84 was haunting in a way that stuck with me well after I was done reading. Its faults might actually work in its favor, since it was the inconsistencies in the writing that let me to retread certain passages to pull more meat off the bones of this confounding, unsatisfying, and ultimately lovely work of literature.

To get a small taste of Murakami’s wonderful ability to pull a reader word-by-word through a story, check out Town of Cats, an excerpt from 1Q84 that was published as a stand-along piece in the New Yorker.