I can’t tell you how many times I picked up this book, read a few (or twenty or fifty) pages, put it back down and then didn’t pick it up again for another month (or two or four). The good news is: the narrative was so compelling that I never had to go back and re-read to remember what was happening in the story. The bad news is: the story is so dense and complex, it was challenging to read more than a few chapters at a time (at least until the last two or three hundred pages, when I couldn’t put it down). The over 1,100 pages in the novel and my distracted approach to reading it meant it took me somewhere between one to three years to get to the end. This, however, should not be an indication of the level of amazingness that is Murakami’s latest epic work. Not by a long stretch.
The storyline revolves around two central characters, Aomame, an assassin with a conscious, and Tengo, a wanna be novelist whose greatest work is a ghost edited short story written by a backward seventeen-year-old girl, Fuka-Eri. In a masterful melding of magical realism and metafiction, and in a carnival mirror kind of way, in 1Q84 Murakami builds a fiction within a fiction within a fiction.
For the first half of the novel, there are two stories being told. In one, Aomame, on a mission to perfect a flawless assassination method, climbs a ladder through a trap door and finds herself no longer in 1984 but, rather, in the world of 1Q84 which looks and feels exactly like 1984 with a few important differences:
One night near the end of July, the thick clouds that had long covered the sky finally cleared, revealing two moons. Aomame stood on her apartment’s small balcony, looking at the sky. She wanted to call someone right away and say, “Can you do me a favor? Stick your head out the window and look at the sky. Okay, how many moons do you see up there? Where I am, I can see two very clearly. How about where you are?”
But she had no one to whom she could make such a call. (427)
There are others as well, of course. But it is the double moons that slowly but surely pull us into the other story (stories) being told, that of Tengo and Fuka-Eri.
When we meet Tengo, he is being smooth-talked into heavily editing Fuka-Eri’s rough but fantastical narrative of the plight of the Little People in a story titled “Air Chrysalis.” Tengo agrees, the story is published to great critical acclaim, and the fabric of reality becomes porous. That’s when the two story lines begin to intertwine, and the world of “Air Chrysalis,” virtually by slight of hand, becomes both the world and the subject of the novel, 1Q84.
If you’re confused, I’m not surprised. There are a hundred tiny stories sprinkled in and around and about the primary plot line of this novel. There are numerous characters with fascinating backstories (a rich old woman who regularly hires Aomame to murder abusive husbands and her homosexual security guard play important parts in the novel, as does an alcoholic editor, a promiscuous beat cop and a religious cult leader – not to mention the cult leader’s ex-friend who is a reclusive old scholar living on a mountaintop with 17-year-old Fuka-Eri). Needless to say, things get interesting. In the end, I’d call it a love story well worth reading. Even if it takes you a year (or two or three) to do it.
4.0 on the Gabriel scale.