Devoted readers of Murakami’s novels, in more than forty languages, will wonder how it has taken me so long to get here. Now I have arrived, I am taking up permanent residence. 1Q84 [London; Vintage, 2012 translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel] was published in Japan in 2009/10 and it just happened to jump off the shelf when I was passing it recently. It’s a marvellous book that combines adventure, romance, philosophy, fantasy, deep understanding of loneliness and a compelling, beautifully written, page-turning narrative. What a discovery!
1Q84 is called a trilogy but it is really one long novel told in three episodes each covering consecutive three month periods from April to December. At over 1,300 pages it is about one-third the length of Proust’s opus and, curiously, one of the characters occupies part of her time reading A la recherche du temps perdu. Murakami is well-read in Western literature and philosophy and deploys that knowledge effortlessly.
The two principal characters are Aomame, whose name translates as Green Peas, a young woman who has broken free from the religious cult of her parents, and Tengo who had to break away from his domineering father, an NHK TV licence fee collector who used to drag him round on his Sunday collections to help shame recalcitrant payers into coughing up. At one point, in primary school and both aged ten, she held his hand and stared at him before rushing off. Both remember this twenty years later and separately vow to find each other. There are many dangerous and potentially fatal pitfalls to negotiate before that’s even remotely possible.
The chapters alternate between Aomame and Tengo letting the reader see what is happening from their parallel points of view; progressing but somehow never seeming to meet. Later, there are chapters seen from the point of view of the private investigator Mr Ushikawa who is seeking to track them down and hand them over to sinister forces. All three seem to be in another world, not 1984 but 1Q84 where there are two moons. Maybe the picky reader will feel that too many loose ends are left untied at the end but that, somehow, is consistent with its character.
Aomame becomes an expert physical fitness instructor, skilled at unknotting muscles. Her talents and the loss to suicide of a dear friend lead her down a path of lethal retribution. Tengo is a brilliant student across all his subjects but has settled into a routine of teaching maths in a crammer and trying with no success to write fiction until he is roped in as a ghost writer. Those talents are sufficient for there to be a connection that will gradually draw them together; or will it?
More of the plot this blog declines to say but I urge you to explore any of Murakami’s novels. The title of this one is actually a clever pun in Japanese. 1-Q-8-4 and 1-9-8-4 just happen to be identically pronounced in Japanese; ichi – kyu – hachi – yong.