Norwegian Wood summarises adolescence with a clarity that no 17-year-old possesses. We follow Protagonist Tora Wantanbe and his closest friends as they feel love, unrequited love, sex, death, promiscuity, mental illness and heartbreak, with naïvety and bewilderment, for the first time. Like these characters, I saw all of the above, and can testify that at 17, that’s a lot to take in.
I had no idea what was going on when I was 17. At least these characters at least seem to understand it all a bit better than I did. Having their hot-headed stories told by a highly articulate adult (Murakami) makes all their teenage shenanigans seem smooth, painless and futile. Of course, it certainly didn’t seem that way at the time.
As always with Haruki Murakami, the novel has beautiful sex scenes. Unlike The Time Traveler’s Wife or Fifty Shades of Grey, whose ugly sex scenes tarnish the whole book, I find the sex in Murakami’s books very agreeable.
Here’s the character map I made for this simple novel:
It’s a gripping book and I read it all in one sitting. Starting with 1Q84, I think I’ve discovered my first favourite author. I absolutely love Murakami’s writing!★★★★★
The most gripping book I’ve ever read. 926 pages, ★★★★★
The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo. A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.
As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.
A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.
1Q84 is unmistakably Japanese. It’s laced with assassins, quasi-religious cult leaders, underage sex and kidnapping. This bizarre (yet real) world is made even stranger when some of the characters are shifted into an alternate world—subtly different from the real world—called 1Q84.
Aomame (青豆) leaves 1984 and enters 1Q84 when she walks down the emergency stairway of a Metropolitan Expressway. She notices nothing at the time, but throughout the first few hundred pages, the reader (and Aomame) slowly realise that something isn’t right. Police uniforms have changed; a logo on a billboards is the wrong way around; and the stairway by which she entered this alternate world no longer exists. She doesn’t recall major news events, such as an unforgettable murder, or that the US and the USSR are co-operating to build a base on the moon.
In addition, on page 610, Aomame describes 1Q84 is an “…unreasonable world where there are two moons in the sky, one large, one small, where something called the Little People control the destiny of others—what meaning could it have anyway?”
The Little People, introduced slowly, will become increasingly important.
Pages 440 to 610 were the most exciting. Aomame acquires a loaded gun, and intends to use it, and Tengo (in a separate storyline) has sex. This entire 170-page section is constantly tense and revelatory. The plot twists, and we realise the world is entirely different, and more connected, than we were led to believe. Everything clicks into place.
Imagine the thrilling feeling of the 2-minute Changeover scene in Fight Club, maintained for 170 pages. I’ve never been so gripped by a book before. Haruki Murakami is a genius.
Despite the alternate-world, telekinesis, double-moon fantasy world in which most of the story takes place, there are some repeated reminders that everyday life is still happening in 1Q84: a rubber plant (on Aomame’s old balcony), her breasts (being small and of different sizes) and the NHK fee-collectors (knocking furiously at people’s doors) are mentioned briefly, throughout the story dozens of times.
From the furthest perspective, 1Q84 is a book about two childhood lovers (Aomame and Tengo) being pulled closer together via alternate worlds and some highly unforgettable characters. Maybe the Little People pulled them together? ★★★★★