Friday, June 14, 2013

Contemporary Fiction: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

I am finally coming through on my promise to post about Haruki Murakami's latest novel, 1Q84. Now, I have to go ahead and say it: this book is long, like Don Quixote long. It doesn't come close to beating War and Peace, but the hardback edition still clocks in at a little over 900 pages. And based on my previous experience with a Murakami novel, I knew I was not going to be bored.

The Situation: Tengo Kawana is an aspiring writer who teaches math at a local cram school in Tokyo, Japan. He hasn't had anything published yet, but he has come extremely close to winning several awards, and it is really only a matter of time before he gets the recognition he deserves. In the meantime, his ruthless and somewhat narcissistic editor has come up with an opportunity for Tengo to make some good money and put his novel-writing skills to use as a ghostwriter. Meanwhile, also in Tokyo, Aomame has an appointment she must keep, but her taxi is stuck in traffic. She takes the strange and probably illegal advice of her taxi driver to get out and use the highway's emergency exit. For both Tengo and Aomame, their lives are about to take a turn that neither saw coming, and returning to the way things were may not be an option.

The Problem: The "opportunity" that Tengo was offered is not quite above board. The short novel he is to ghostwrite was already written once by a beautiful, but strange and enigmatic young girl. Unfortunately, the first draft is not ready for the general public, but the story is compelling. Tengo's unscrupulous editor has the idea to have Tengo rewrite the story so it can be submitted for a prestigious literary prize. Needless to say, if the general public were to find out, it could lead to problems for everyone involved. As it turns out, this would be the least of their worries. Unbeknownst to Tengo and his editor, the publication of the book lets out the secrets of a local organization that they would have rather kept hidden, and now Tengo has drawn their unwanted attention. As for Aomame, she becomes involved in her own scandal as her wealthy benefactor gives her an assignment that will, at the very least, cause her to give up her life as she knows it, and at the most, cause her to lose it completely.

As if all of that wasn't enough, Aomame has become convinced that she has entered some sort of alternate reality that she has started to call 1Q84, as opposed to the actual year it should be, 1984. How she entered this alternate reality, she isn't sure, and she is even less sure how to get back.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a contemporary fiction book that could also be called science fiction as it deals with alternate realities, alternate history, parallel worlds, etc. As you can probably guess, because alternate realities are a major theme, there are a lot of doubles, in various forms, throughout the book. There are many people who share similar pasts, interests, and even fates. Even the two main characters, Tengo and Aomame, serve as each other's double in many ways, starting with a few shared experiences from childhood. Of course, Murakami is in fact referencing George Orwell's 1984 with his title, and the classic book does come up many times throughout the story. The book is an interesting way for the author to pay tribute to the classic dystopian novel. Another important theme is that of meta-fiction. The events that occur in the novel Tengo helped ghostwrite end up taking place in the real world. And I just want to point out, it is pretty ingenious to have a piece of fiction that everyday readers within the novel praise for its quality and inventiveness be a part of the actual novel itself. It's a way for the writer to come out and say that his own story idea is awesome, without coming out and saying it himself. And he would have gotten away with it too if it weren't for us pesky bloggers...

My Verdict: These days it is a big risk to decide to devote your precious reading time to a 900 page novel that could very well end in regret. Fortunately, Murakami's novel was worth it to the very end. It may not be my favorite novel of all time, or even one of my highest ranking as far as ratings, but it was well worth the time investment. Also, kind of like anything written by Charles Dickens, this book slowly gets better the further it goes along. It takes time to get thoroughly invested and involved with the characters. In fact, there were times when I was less than interested in the two main characters and found them to be pretty pathetic and useless. But ever so tactfully, Murakami changes all of that around and makes these two relatable to the point that I was concerned for their well-being. So if you have ever read anything by Murakami before and wasn't turned off by him, it is worth it to check out 1Q84.

Favorite Moment: Any moment when it is revealed to the reader that everything will actually work out fine always makes me happy. There are many moments of doubt as danger seems to be closing in, but throughout the novel, there is an overhanging sense that things are going just as they should be.

Favorite Character: In this book, there are none righteous, no, not even one. But even so, I decided to pick Tamaru, the bodyguard for Aomame's wealthy benefactor and her estate. He's not exactly what most would call a warm and fuzzy guy, but he is protective and careful, and when given the task of taking care of something he does so to the absolute best of his ability (which is really really good) and takes the job very seriously. He's the kind of person you look at and immediately think, "Ah, things are going to be okay." 

Recommended Reading: Obviously, it would be pretty much criminal for me to not recommend Orwell's 1984. But I also recommend the only other Murakami book I have read, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Parts of 1Q84 reminded me of the style and tone of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but I found the larger door stop to actually be more enjoyable and easier to follow.

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