Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Review: 1Q84

From 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami:
Open quote 

If you can't understand it without an explanation, you can't understand it with an explanation."

That quote sums up both the message and reading experience of 1Q84. This is a mystery story, but not a whodunnit. The question is not so much "who" dunnit as what the "it" is. The novel eventually gets around to answering that question, sort of, but only at the surface level. The deeper meaning, well, readers are going to have to figure that out for themselves. That's how it should be.

After the jump, my review.

Grade: A+

1Q84 is the name given by one of the characters to what appears to be a new world that forked from the real world in early 1984. The "Q" in 1Q84 stands for "Question." Don't expect Haruki Murakami to provide all the answers. If so, the novel might have been called 1A84.

1Q84 is a massive work by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. It was originally published in Japan as three books, but I read the combined work straight through. It is a difficult novel to describe. Part fantasy, part mystery, part thriller, part love story, it has explicit sex scenes, dysfunctional families, cold-blooded murders, procedural detective work, and lots of self-reflection and seeking after personal fulfillment. And, oh yeah, there are two moons in the Tokyo sky.

The novel is structured as interleaved chapters following the lives of the two main characters, Aomame and Tengo, whose fortunes gradually converge as they get mixed up in a mystery bigger than either can understand or control. Much of the action is repeated from the different points of view of the different characters, à la Rashomon.

1Q84 sucked this reader in from the opening scene and never let go. Murakami leads the reader along slowly but inescapably into a world that is never quite fully explained. Trying to make sense of what's really going on and what it all means is something that keeps the reader turning pages late into the night and stays with the reader after the novel is finished.

It's a great story, very well told. The plot gets the reader hooked, but it's the character development that makes the novel great. There are entire chapters focused on the character's daydreams and reminiscences, tangents and side trips in which the plot hardly advances, or at least the significance to the plot is realized only much later. That will turn off many readers, but it's what allows the characters to come alive. The novel is as much about the characters as the plot.

The characters themselves are not fully aware of all that is going on outside their own lives. Murakami lets the reader understand this mysterious world 1Q84 through his characters' experiences, learning what they learn, never more, when they learn it, never before. It's a brilliant choice of Murakami to leave much of the interpretation of the story to the reader, laying out the narrative of what happens, not the explanation of what it all means. That's how the real world operates; great fiction should do the same, even if it describes a world with two moons. 1Q84 is like that. I can't recommend it highly enough. But be warned: many readers are likely to find it too long, with a plot that develops too slowly. Those readers are, well, just plain wrong. ;-)

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