1Q84 (Book 1 and Book 2)

Haruki Murakami

First Sentence:   The taxi’s radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast.

Right from the very first sentence of this book it is obvious we are returning to classic Murakami. From the first mention of that classical FM broadcast right through to the last page, this book is a dream. The two main characters are Aomame (pronounced ‘Ah-Oh-Mah-Meh’) meaning ‘green peas’ who has one very large ear and Tengo, a man with cauliflower ears. The basic plot of the book,  I say basic as there is layer upon layer on offer here, revolves around these two characters who once held hands in school at ten years of age. Tengo is now a struggling writer and Aomame is a hired assassin. As Tengo gets sucked into literary fraud (he ghostwrites a book for the precocious Fuka-Eri, called Air Chrysalis), Aomame gets sucked into the sinister world of religious cults and child abuse (namely the cult Sakigake, and Tsubasa, a ten-year old girl who is raped by The Leader). All the while they are each seeking the other. It soon becomes clear to Aomame however that she is no longer even living in the real 1984 (the year the book is set, and yes, the book 1984 is mentioned throughout) but rather 1Q84 as she dubs it. In 1Q84 (the Q representing a question mark. Appropriate as this book is full of questions, and not many answers!) there are two moons, one smaller than the other, and everything seems to be that little bit different. Or as Aomame puts it, “the bottle and the cap don’t fit.” As in all great Murakami novels everything is slightly skewed from the get go and things certainly become no clearer as the book progresses. But this surreal element is what Murakami does best. Komatsu (Tengo’s agent) says it best when he says:

There also has to be that ‘special something’, an indefinable quality, something I can’t quite put my finger on. That’s the part of fiction I value more highly than anything else. Stuff I understand perfectly doesn’t interest me. Obviously. It’s very simple.

Another thing Murakami does well in his books is music, and from the first sentence, when we are listening to Janáček’s Sinfonietta music pervades this book. Bach is also mentioned several times, and both Tengo and Fuka-Eri are fond of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Absolutely every little thing in this book screams classic Murakami and if you are a fan of his writing you won’t be disappointed. If you’re not a fan of his writing, just read this book, you will be. It may not resolve all the questions it puts in your head but I think one ‘reviewer’ of Air Chrysalis in the book sums it up perfectly:

As a story, the work is put together in an exceptionally interesting way and it carries the reader along to the very end, but when it comes to the question of what is an air chrysalis, or who are the Little People, we are left in a pool of mysterious question marks.

1Q84 also leaves us in a pool of mysterious question marks, but what a glorious pool to dwell (and possibly drown) in. Roll on 1Q84 Book 3

* * * * *

Last Sentence: I will find Aomame , Tengo swore to himself again, no matter what happens, no matter what kind of world it may be, no matter who she may be.

Book 2 ends like Book 1 began with Aomame in a taxi on the Metropolitan Expressway. She realises this was the moment she entered 1Q84 and she is looking for an exit. There is no exit so she puts a gun in her mouth, says “Tengo”, and begins to pull the trigger. At the same time as this, Tengo is visiting his father in the sanitorium. Tengo’s father is probably not actually his real father: Tengo’s first memory is of another man sucking his mother’s breasts and he has reason to believe that this mystery man is instead his actual biological father. While Tengo is in the sanitorium he leaves his father for a few minutes. On his return, his father is no longer in bed but an air chrysalis has formed and inside it is the ten-year old Aomame. He holds her hand, says her name, and she disappears. All of this might seem confusing but it’s not really the half of what goes on in this mind altering book. As Tengo’s father who’s probably not his father says:

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

The entire book is a series of unanswered, and possibly unanswerable, questions. Why, and how exactly, does Fuka-Eri have a  habit of asking questions without a question mark? Who killed Ayumi? (The cop Aomame meets in a bar and proceeds to have a relationship-of-sorts with.) Were the Little People involved? Who are the Little People anyway? Why are there two moons in 1Q84 and does everyone even know there are two moons? Is one smaller for a reason and does it matter that one of Aomame’s breasts is also smaller than the other? Who exactly is Ushikawa? (The man who offers Tengo a grant and who seems to know all about the fraud.) Is he involved with the Little People? What really happened to Tengo’s older married girlfriend? Why did she stop coming around to his house? And on. And on. And on. It is an endless series of questions and that alone, for me, makes this narrative incredibly compelling.

As well as George Orwell, Chekhov is also a big influence here also. When Aomame gets the gun from Tamaru, the dowager’s bodyguard, Chekhov is alluded to several times. It is Chekhov who said that once a gun appears in a book it has to be fired at some stage. Aomame wants this gun in case she is captured by members of Sakigake. She plans to kill herself if this does come to pass. Prior to the ending of the book, when the gun has possibly been fired, Aomame has succesfully killed the Leader, but before he died he explained his powers to Aomame, and how he becomes paralysed with a severe erection which some of the girls in the cult, including Tsubasa, penetrate themselves on. He does not consider this rape, but rather he feels he becomes a conduit for the Little People. After The Leader has been killed, Aomame goes into hiding and one night happens to see Tengo staring at the two moons.  She runs to meet him but she is too late. By the end of Book 2, Aomame and Tengo have still not met. At the same time as Aomame is killing The Leader, Tengo himself has an attack of paralysis and Fuka-Eri has sex with him. She has become the perceiver and he has become the receiver for Little People. What this means for the future we have no idea.

I can only imagine that 1Q84 Book 3 will probably give up very little in the way of answers, and probably a whole new batch of  fresh questions instead. I can’t wait…

Sample quote from the book:

“That’s what the world is, after all: an endless battle of contrasting memories.”

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