Reading 1Q84: Book 1 was an experience like no other. My copy of the novel has 1,318 pages of the story and it initially looked quite intimidating to me. The thickness really scared me at first and that was why I decided to make it my second read of the year. Tackle the thick books first, I thought.
The novel was originally written in Japanese. Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel translated the text into English. Despite it being a weighty tome, it would not be surprising if you find yourself breezing through the book, thanks to the simple, easy-reading but beautiful language used throughout. Some might find it boring but I liked how the author was attentive to every little detail of the scene and the movement of the characters.
Speaking of characters, I must say that they are the driving force of the novel. The main characters are Aomame and Tengo. They are prominently featured in alternating chapters, that is the first chapter would be about Aomame, the next about Tengo, then the third chapter about Aomame, fourth Tengo and so on. Book 1 of the trilogy takes place between April and June in the year 1984 and there are 24 chapters. Twelve chapters each for both characters.
As obvious as it sounds, the title is like a major reference to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. Sure there are instances in 1Q84 where Orwell’s 1984 is discussed and in a way, there are also some similarities between both novels. Here are a couple of examples:
1984 – Lovebirds Winston and Julia | 1Q84 – Aomame and Tengo
1984 – Big Brother | 1Q84 – Leader
I shall now write a bit about the main characters in 1Q84.
Aomame, 30, is described as being tall, lean and muscular and she sounds like someone who rarely smiles. Her name also means ‘green peas’. By Chapter 3, I was blown away reading the scene of her murdering a man using only a needle, leaving absolutely no trace of the act. She works as a gym trainer but also a hired assassin. Scary, right, or is it thrilling?
As someone who constantly keeps up to date with the news, Aomame is puzzled when she could not recall certain changes or important events, like how the policemen’s uniforms had changed or about a violent shootout between the police and a group of radicals. Most importantly, she is most shocked to see two moons in the sky, instead of the normally one moon. It is the year 1984 and since she feels like she is in a totally different world, she decides to name the year 1Q84. Q is for ‘question mark’. Incidentally, ‘kyu’ is 9 in Japanese, and ‘kyu’ sounds like the letter ‘Q’!
Tengo, 29, is an aspiring fiction writer but teaches Mathematics three times a week at the cram school. A lonely character, Tengo seems to only interact mostly with his editor, Komatsu, and his married girlfriend whom he meets once a week for a rendezvous.
At Komatsu’s request, Tengo unwillingly participates in literary fraud by rewriting a short story originally by 17-year-old Fuka-Eri who seemingly submitted her work for a writing contest. Komatsu wholly believed that the original storyline combined with Tengo’s marvellous writing would have the potential of snapping up the new writers’ prize. As interesting as it is, Tengo could not help feeling apprehensive about the contents of Fuka-Eri’s story that is about the Little People who come out of a dead goat’s body. Reading about the Little People gives me the chills!
Despite hints scattered throughout the chapters that Tengo and Aomame may have shared a special moment 20 years ago in school, both of them do not meet as adults in Book 1. Not yet. I will find out when I read Books 2 and 3 next.
This is my first Murakami novel. I read an article online that his novels mostly revolve around the themes of loneliness, otherworldliness and sex, and 1Q84 does not disappoint in those aspects. I am so glad to have found a book that I enjoy reading despite the strangeness of it all. In fact, the peculiarity of the book makes it all the more intriguing.
I shall now continue reading Book 2 of 1Q84.