1Q84 Review – Q & A with Yours Truly (Part One of Three)

Last year saw a few whimsical musings about Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, 1Q84, but I can no longer hide behind split personalities, fictional characters and famous ghost-writers – it’s time to get down to the serious business of unravelling my feelings on the book.  In the next few posts, I’ll be posing myself some rather stern questions and then watching myself squirm while attempting to answer them (fun for all involved!).

Before we begin though, just a friendly warning: if you haven’t read the book yet, this might be your cue to slip away quietly before you find out something you didn’t want to know yet.  Don’t worry – I won’t hold it against you 😉

So what’s it all about, Tony? 
Glad you asked – well, actually, no, I’m not.  This is not an easy book to define, and any attempt to pigeon-hole it, or define it in one sweeping statement about themes is doomed to failure.  One reason for this is the fact that 1Q84 consists of three books, and after finishing the set, I believe that this is actually how the series should be read.

Book One, as well as setting up the fictional world of 1Q84 (and introducing us to many of its delightful inhabitants), has a strong focus on sexuality, especially society’s attitudes towards women.  At the start of the book, the reader is led through a series of erotic escapades, both contemporary and relived in memory, and after a while there is an uncomfortable sense of voyeurism.  At one point, I began to think that Murakami was simply indulging in cheap thrills…

However, when the writer begins to carefully disclose certain details from his protagonists’ past lives, this feeling rapidly disappears.  Instead, we are left to ponder the effects of physical and sexual abuse, whether on children or married women, and the way in which a society like the Japan of 1984 (an important point to remember…) can push this kind of abuse under the carpet.  In the actions of Aomame, Ayumi, the Dowager and Tamaki Otsuka, we see the consequences of ignoring such brutal behaviour towards women: suicide, dangerous hedonism or revenge…

Book Two seems to shift focus somewhat, switching its attention to the subject of religious fanaticism and the effect it has on its adherents (and their children).  During Aomame’s lengthy chat with Leader (in the course of the strangest – and most unhurried – assassination ever), the truth of what has been happening between the head of the cult and his handmaidens comes to light; however, it appears that Aomame (and Murakami himself) is no longer so interested in what has, up to this point, been her primary motivation.  The focus has switched to the organisation of Sakigake and a desire to know what exactly drives the religious group.

Of course, Sakigake are not the only fanatics highlighted in 1Q84.  In the quest to avenge her daughter’s death, the Dowager, the head of an equally shadowy empire (with, arguably, more efficient agents of revenge than Sakigake itself), has become a law unto herself, focused on righting perceived wrongs that the legal system is unable to deal with.  And, of course, if we are discussing fanatics and monolithic systems, there’s nobody as dedicated as Tengo’s father – if the witnesses have made Aomame what she is, then Tengo is a product of neglect by NHK…

Book Three then moves the reader on to another tangent, this time concerned with loneliness.  All three of the narrative characters, Ushikawa, Aomame and Tengo, spend time cooped up in confined spaces, with limited contact with the outside world.  The result of the choices they have made, their solitude is a trial of strength and character, and Murakami does a great job of showing what a miserable life it can be when you’re deserted by (or isolated from) those who make your life worth living.

It is here that Ushikawa is a useful foil to the two main characters.  He is ultimately brought low by his inability to connect with other people and his insistence on going it alone.  While Aomame and Tengo are also natural loners, the love they have for each other is a redeeming factor which saves them from the fate poor Ushikawa suffers.  It is also interesting to note that it is Tamaru who brings Ushikawa’s life to an end – his reaction on doing so shows that he realises that this is something which could (and quite possibly will) happen to him one day…

Three books – three ideas.  Whether or not this is what Murakami intended is unanswerable (although highly unlikely!), but there does seem to be a progression in his ideas and interests as the work progresses.   Perhaps it is is this lack of a single focus which makes 1Q84 a difficult book to pin down: a case of too many ideas spoiling the broth?  Or a healthy blend of spicy ideas?  Well, that remains to be seen 😉

So, I’ve looked at what I think it may all be about, but to what extent has Murakami actually achieved his aims with 1Q84?  Well, for the answer to that question, you’ll have to come back next time…


3 thoughts on “1Q84 Review – Q & A with Yours Truly (Part One of Three)

  1. You done it again, I come back here after umming & arghing for a bit, but no's I go, tony said it would be normal, he wouldn't mislead me, would he, an look wot yer dun! you're interviewing yourself and then in instalments, you've not been watching the soaps again av yer? Great post will be back when I've finished book 3.


  2. Gary – What? This *is* sensible – comparatively…

    Simon – Thanks 🙂 Compared to the first three posts I did on '1Q84' (links in the first paragraph of this one), this is normal 😉


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