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Multi-sitting Book Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

murakami 1Q84 Multi sitting Book Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

When Murakamis 1Q84'was couriered to my office I sat it, unopened, on one'side of my desk with the promise that Id not look at it until I was done with the days deadline.

As it was, I didnt open 1Q84'until some few months afterward. There are numerous reasons for this: my reading backlog of several hundred books and my participation in various reading events and blog tours being amongst them. But if Im to be candid, the main reason that I didnt get to the book for so long was that I had a little bit of literary Schroedingers cat (or, since were talking Murakami, Noburu Watanabe) going on. Until I opened it, I wouldnt know whether my anticipation was founded or not.

Endeavouring to maintain the spirit of Read in a Single Sitting I planned to look at'1Q84'as three separate volumes, but soon realised that this was impossible: the novel sprawls and meanders with little resolution between each of its volumes, and with an overall plot arc that simply seems to peter outand even the most dedicated Murakami fan will no doubt admit that a rainbow with no end loses its pleasure. So, taking a cue from Murakami, Ill get it all out in one long, breathless post.

Following excellent works such as The Wind-up Bird Chronicle'and Kafka on the Shore (and some admittedly lesser works like Dance Dance Dance)'and the result of years undergoing careful translation under the capable hand of Murakamis preferred translator Jay Rubin, 1Q84'was released with similar fanfare to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. But where HP7 allowed a point where Rowling could gracefully bow out from the word of literature should she want to, 1Q84s legacy is, I suspect, quite a different one.

Any Murakami reader will be aware that for something to be considered a genuine Murakami work, it must contain the following elements: a lonely middle-aged guy who works a job that involves minimal association with others; a teenaged girl who speaks with a high degree of idiosyncrasy (and who likely smokes Lucky Sevens); various individuals with strange and rarely explained occupations; a number of characters who have died, whether at their own hand or that of another; the consumption of beer and cucumber sandwiches; and some general weirdness involving the breaking down of walls, doors, or other physical objects to allow access to another reality.

For much of his oeuvre, Murakami has muddled about with various permutations of the above to varying degrees of success. There were, however, breakaways from this literary sameism:'The Wind-up Bird Chronicle,'Kafka on the Shore and After Dark'demonstrated that Murakami was willing to stretch himself as an author.

But while 1Q84'is the novel that should have marked an important milestone in Murakamis growth as a writer, something that has been slowly happening in novels such as those mentioned above, its instead a thousand page long rehash of his earlier work, and unfortunately without the charm.

1Q84'opens with the enigmatic disorientation so key in any Murakami. Aomame is in a taxi on the way to an important meeting. But hearing the strains of an obscure classical composition on the radio in the taxi shes travelling in, she realises that not all is as it seems. She asks to be let out of the taxi, and climbs down a flight of stairs, in doing so transitioning from the year 1984 to that of 1Q84 (the Q, we are told, is for question mark).'Aomames meeting is a sinister one, however, and she promptly becomes embroiled in a complex series of events involving religious fanaticism and social predestination.

Meanwhile, would-be author Tengo is called upon to clandestinely rewrite the oddly named novel Air Chrysalis, which has been submitted by a strange teenage girl who insinuates that the odd, cult-based goings-on in the novel are drawn from her own experiences. Tengo becomes caught up in the world of this novel, in doing so cementing himself in the slightly canted reality of 1Q84 and inexorably drawing ever closer to Aomame, whom we learn is a childhood friend of Tengos.

There are a number of themes at play here: the draw of an alternate life represented by a cult, which is seen in Japan not only in actual cults such as that of the Aum, but also in lifestyles such as otaku, where people become obsessively involved in things such as gaming or anime. Isolation within a wider society is also examined in many ways: Tengo lives, by choice, a life of isolation, whereas Aomame ends up being sent into isolation for her own safety. Even the minor characters, such as Aomames police officer friend and her employer the dowager, live solitary lives: the police officer is a lone female amongst male colleagues, while the dowager lives in a walled estate. But whenever someone seeks out companionship or a relationship, the results seem always to be negative. We see murders, suicide, violence and continued isolationa grim commentary on the consequences of seeking a connection with another. Even sex is something that is regimented and soulless, with some characters seeking no-strings-attached sex purely for physical relief, and others finding themselves paralysed and entirely without agency while having sex.

Part of what makes this so disconcerting is that karma and fate seem to play a large role in the novel. For example, Tengo and Aomames lives are linked by virtue of the fact that they held hands during primary school. This implies to me that their lives are bound to continue down a certain path, no matter what their actions. If this pattern is applied on a wider scale throughout the book, then theres implication of peoples lives being unassailably linked with violence and other similar experiences. Given how frequently rape and abuse are addressed in this book, this can be a challenging notion.

While thematically 1Q84'offers some interesting (if depressing) fodder, the execution is poor. Perhaps this is partly to do with the fact that Murakami, who has always distanced himself from the Japanese literary canon, tries so overtly to position himself as a western writer, with western cultural references in strange and superfluous abundance. Its not only the music and cucumber sandwiches that stand out, but also the fact that each of Murakamis characters seems rather too well-versed in all things Proust and Chekhov. As passing references, these might work, but when multiple pages are given over to an explicit examination of the Chekhovs gun device, and two characters discuss Proust in depth (over madelines, no less), its hard not to begin to wonder whether the audience is the butt of an extended literary joke.

And perhaps it is. As 1Q84s characters seek the truth of a manuscript whose subject matter is utterly absurd, merrily slip between dimensions to apply whichever reality allows the novel to press forward (a dimension where its possible to walk through doors certainly helps breaking and entering), and wax lyrical about whether Chekhovs gun should be fired, theres a topic that the novel frequently touches upon: the fact that the people of Japan have made the strange and demented Air Chrysalis'a huge success simply because its the cool thing to do. Given that the characters frequently remark on the books odd title (the misuse of chrysalis vs cocoon) and the fact that the reading population will buy anything theyre told to, one cant help but wonder whether Murakami is making a (very, very long-winded) statement about his readers.


Rating: star Multi sitting Book Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakamistar Multi sitting Book Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakamihalfstar Multi sitting Book Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakamiblankstar Multi sitting Book Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakamiblankstar Multi sitting Book Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (not bad)

With thanks to Random House Australia for the review copy

See our other Haruki Murakami reviews

Support Read in a Single Sitting by purchasing 1Q84 from

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Other books by Haruki Murakami:

wind up bird murakami Multi sitting Book Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakaminorwegian wood murakami Multi sitting Book Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakamihardboiled wonderland murakami Multi sitting Book Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

kafka on the shore murakami Multi sitting Book Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami


  1. Wow, Ive never read a Murakami so I dont think ill start with this one. The hype surrounding the release of this book was huge, so its interesting to see your review. I think ill try one of the three you site as being different to his usual type of book.

  2. Stephanie /

    Sigh, I know, MoI was so looking forward to this one! I do hope you enjoy the others, though. Murakamis very accessible for a Japanese writer (cf Oe or Kawabata or others), so his novels tend to be fairly speedy reads, but they do become rather samey-samey after a while!

  3. I havent finished the book yet, but I have a theory about whats going on. Ill have to see if it works out. It involves Proust. :)

  4. Stephanie /

    Darn, I knew I shouldve read past page 80 of Proust!

  5. Oh dear, I am (have been) a Murakami fan have read around 4 of his books but the reviews of this book are not encouraging me and, at the length it is, Im seriously considering not reading it.

    • Stephanie /

      I didnt realise that this one had had such a poor critical reception until after Id posted my review. Its a very long novel for what it is, which I think has a lot to do with the receptionand I think the huge anticipation had something to do with it as well. It felt so disjointed to me, as though parts of it were a bunch of short stories cobbled together, and other bits were rewrites of his earlier work. Although it is very metafictional, so perhaps this was all intentional!

  6. Whispering Gums /

    Not having read it I wouldnt really know, but knowing Murakami I guess it was intentional. But maybe it just doesnt work.

    • Stephanie /

      I hope Im just in the minority here, but the novel just felt off-kilter for me, as though it was trying so very hard to be something that it just quite wasnt. Oh well. Im sure has my money for the next one regardless!

  7. Whispering Gums /

    I dont think you are in the minority on this one actually.

  8. I was secretly hoped you read this book in one sitting :)

  9. Stephanie /

    Ha! I really did try!

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