There were several reasons why I had to read this book, series, whatever you call it. All 1001 pages of it. First, Haruki Murakami is my favourite author. Second, 1984 is one of my favourite books of all time. Third, the book is so hot that all of them were checked out from the library. I found Book 3 (In the UK, Book 1 and 2 are published as one book, and Book 3 as a separate book) lying on the shelf of Westminster Library, all I have to do is to locate Book 1 and 2. Fourth, so much hype around it, I just have to find out if it is any good.
The year is 1984. Aomame (named after pea), stuck in the traffic inside a taxi on a congested Tokyo expressway, listening to composer Janáček’s - Sinfonietta. She has an urgent appointment to go to and the taxi driver has suggested that she get down on the shoulder of the road and she will find a passage way down the highway and get the underground train. In the tradition of Murakami’s story, once you go through a “passage way” you come out into a different realm and sort. So this is no exception.
Aomame is on top secret mission and her work leads her to the mysterious religious cult leader’s lair. Aomame is slim, athletic and works as a fitness instructor in a health club. Aomame understands what it means to grow up in a religious family. There is only a fine line between the religious faithful and the zealot. Her family member crossed the line. Deep in her heart though, she never forgets the 10-year-old boy called Tengo who was in her class. She remembers that day when she plucked up her courage and held the boy’s hand, for a few minutes. Thus their fates are sealed. They couldn’t forget one another, for the next 20 years.
Meanwhile, Tengo leads a nondescript life teaches mathematics 3 days at cram school and has an affair with his girlfriend who is married. He was persuaded to “touch-up” a novel written by a 17-year-old girl named Erika Fuka, pen name Fuka-Eri, who writes a fantasy story about losing a goat under her guard, the little people and air chrysalis.
Except Aomame climbing out the other end of the passage and Erika Fuka’s fantasy novel, the pages flew by with intriguing everyday details of Aomame and Tengo’s lives, with their voices alternate between chapters, infused with the hurt and affection to the people that they meet in the course of their normal lives; for awhile it was pure voyeurism to pry into reading these details of people’s life that I forgot that things were supposed to get weirder… and it did. Inevitably…..
Aomame and Tengo, separately, noticed that the world has gone stranger. Aomame noticed there were two moons in the sky. The normal moon that we see and the little green one that serves as the moon’s satellite. I know that the two stories will become intertwined and sometimes all the clues are there and may have saved Murakami’s some ink and the world’s much paper if there weren’t so many repetitive facts that we have known either through Aomame’s or Tengo’s. The intention to make this novel goes on and on, is obvious. My librarian told me last week that Dickens was paid by how many words he could get into the book, so there were thick books that were written by Dickens, seems like a waffle. In some way, I felt 1Q84 waffles. I was told what the characters wore, the brand name of the clothes, the shoes, how their ears look like and how long they peed. But I did enjoy reading about their life histories and that made me empathise the villain who seems so pathetic that I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to the villain.
1Q84 is mostly a story about broken lives. About miserable childhoods spent knocking on people’s door collecting NHK (Japanese TV) subscription (Tenko’s) or proselytising (Aomame’s). Both run away from home fairly young and became talented individuals, in their own ways. It is a story about people who locked up voluntarily or involuntarily, who prefers secluded life or left the reality to live in sanatorium, high security fortress or hidden from public eyes. I prefer reading about Aomame’s than Tengo, not sure why, is it because it was told by a woman’s perspective? The story of Aomame and Tengo connection is one of the souls and it is beautiful in a way but I think I am too grown up to be able to appreciate the possibility of holding on to one such memory that sustains for the next 20 years.
“I am alone, but not lonely.” – Aomame
Am I entirely happy with the novel? Well, no. I like it but I didn’t love it. It reminds me of Wind-up Bird Chronicle, which I didn’t like because it left a lot of loose end untied (unless it is deliberate, for possible sequels) but I like it better than Wind-up Bird Chronicle because of its personalise approach to story-telling. The characters are the most developed after Norwegian Wood.
There was such a promising premise of the mention of domestic violence and I thought Murakami is going to take the Stieg Larsson way and have the characters do something noble and earth shattering about it. Unfortunately that’s not to be. Murakami even devise the plot in such a way that it kills the joy of seeing the justice being fulfilled. There are a lot more description of a more graphical in nature in the book which I will not spoil it for you but it may well be one that will make you feel disturbed from the mention of it.
As always, I love Murakami’s quotes:
Komatsu believed that mental acuity was never born from comfortable circumstances. – page 29
“Did you ever experience bullying when you were a child?”
Tengo thought back to his childhood. “I don’t think so,” he answered. “or maybe I just never noticed.”
“If you never noticed, it never happened. I mean, the whole point of bullying is to make the person notice it’s being done to him or her. You can’t have bullying without the victim noticing.”
“Finally,” his girlfriend said, “everybody feels safe belonging not to the excluded minority but to the excluding majority. You think, oh, I’m glad that’s not me. It’s basically the same in all periods in all societies. If you belong to the majority, you can avoid thinking about lots of troubling things.”
- Page 84
Man who wield great violence
Men who wield great violence at home against their wives and children are invariably people of weak character. They prey upon those who are weaker than themselves precisely because of their own weakness. – page 234
The crime of rewriting history
They rewrite history. Robbing people of their actual history is the same as robbing them of part of themselves. It’a crime. Our memory is made up of our individual memories and our collective memories. The two are intimately linked. And history is our collective memory. If our collective memory is taken from us – is rewritten – we lose the ability to sustain our true selves. – Tengo on George Orwell’s 1984 take on the protagonist who rewrite history. page 275
Are you born out of a vacuum in your parents?
This man is no empty shell, no vacant house. He is a flesh-and-blood human being with a narrow, stubborn soul and shadowed memories, surviving in fits and starts on this patch of land by the sea. He has no choice but to coexist with the vacuum that is slowly spreading inside him. The vacuum and his memories are still at odds, but eventually, regardless of his wishes, the vacuum will completely swallow up whatever memories are left. It is just a matter of time. Could the vacuum that he is confronting now be the same vacuum from which I was born? – Tengo about his father, page 437
The ability to take both on both sides and the truth is relative:
He would propose an idea for discussion and debate it, taking both sides. He would passionately argue in support of the proposition, then argue – just as vigorously – against it. He could identify equally with either of the two positions and was completely sincerely absorbed by whatever position he happed to be supporting at the moment. Before he had realised it, these exercises had given him the talent to be sceptical about his own self, and he had come to the recognition that most of what is generally considered the truth is entirely relative. – Ushikawa page 156
On Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”:
It’s a story about different place. By different place, I mean it’s like reading a detailed report form a small planet light years away from this world I’m living in. I can picture all the scenes described and understand them. It’s described very vividly, minutely, even. But I can’t connect the scenes in that book with where I am now. We are physically too far apart. I’ll be reading it, and I find myself having to go back and reread the passage over again.
I’m inclined to say Murakami can do no wrong in my eyes but the next minute after I said that I felt a little disappointed by the book. It is story telling at the highest order and the 1001 pages flew by as easily as reading a paperback of 350 pages which serve as an encouragement for you out there who are daunted by the size of it. There were a lot of twists and plotting, interesting characters that keep me going but it is one of those books that I came out feeling that it should have been more, like coming out of a roller coaster ride and I go: “That was a fun ride, but what was the purpose again?”
I just think there were signs of great promises, i.e. domestic violence, fate and free will, love and romance, religious fanaticism etc. All which potentially could be developed into something grandeur and breathtaking, but it didn’t. Oh sure, it is an ambitious book, but I think building those roller coaster rides are ambitious as well. For sure I will go on the roller coaster ride again for the thrill of it but it will not be a ride that becomes a sustenance of my inspiration in life. A good book needs to do that but this one didn’t do it for me. It is a book that divides opinion, even my own, depending when you ask me, I will rave about the bits I like now and tell you what infuriates me the next time you ask. Still, reading 1Q84 was a joy ride.
Do you think if I own the book or read it slower the experience would have been different?
The Janáček – Sinfonietta was mentioned a lot in the book:
The book trailer in Hungarian translation:
Hardbacks. [Harvill Secker October 2011],[Book 1 and 2 623 pages, Book 364 pages],[Library Loan], Finished reading at: 14th January 2012. Translated by Jay Rubin Book 1 and 2, Philip Gabriel Book 3. Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, the translation style for both authors are very similar.
I’m reading this for Japanese Literature Challenge 5 and Murakami Challenge 2012.
Wilfrid Wong : I would say 1Q84 is perhaps Murakami’s most polished work to date.
Ti@bookchatter : I was very sad when I turned the last page. I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to crawl inside the book and become one with it. It was wonderful and thought-provoking on so many levels. It’s totally accessible even at its 944 pages and there is never a dull moment.
Mel @rereadinglives : I do not endorse this book to anyone else. If Murakami produces another novel, I will for sure still give him the earned on his old books respect of reading it but I will not be as excited to do so as I was when I started 1Q84.
Tony@Tonyreadinglist : Did I like 1Q84? Of course I did :) Although there are a few exceptions out there, I think that most people who like Murakami’s work will get a lot out of 1Q84. It may not have lived up to the hype (which, for regular readers at least, seemed to be up there with the return of Star Wars), but it’s a welcome addition to the Murakami canon.
Dolce Bellezza: Murakami must believe in the redemptive power of a couple’s love, just as they must believe in one another.
Sam still reading: It wouldn’t be Murakami if there weren’t some weird and seemly unexplainable twists. Book 3 doesn’t disappoint in that sense, and twists make events in the previous two books seem clearer. The ending however, no matter how much you wished it to happen, is a little linear and predictable – unusual for Murakami. It does leave you with a sense of fulfilment though. Does the pedestrian ending means there are more events to unfold in a Book 4? Let’s hope so. I’d love to hear more about this world.
Tanabata@In spring it is the dawn: Tanabata’s J-lit discussion Q&A