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On the Subject of Moons and Frustrating Dystopias:

A Review of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84

On two, and only two occasions, I have been so frustrated with a novel that I physically hurled it across a room and broke its spine. The first victim of my fuming book rage was Jane Eyre. I had fallen madly in love with Mr. Rochester, was living vicariously through Jane, and my fifteen-year-old self flipped out when she left him. I remember shrieking something along the lines of, "Congratulations bitch. Now he’s BLIND," before chucking the doomed book against my bedroom wall. Lo and behold, thirteen years later my wrath has returned, and a second book lies murdered at my feet.

At an astounding 1157 pages, Haruki Murakami’s novel 1Q84 is, if nothing else, a juggernaut of wasted potential. For those who are familiar with Murakami’s previous acclaimed texts such as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1994) and Kafka on the Shore (2002), my reaction to 1Q84 may seem harsh. The fact is: I wanted to love this novel. I really did. What’s not to love about two destined lovers coexisting across parallel universes where one world has one moon and the other has two? What’s not to love about a deranged cult with a telekinetic "Leader" who is governed by malicious but elusive "Little People" who seek to control or destroy these lovers? What’s not to love about the hours and hours you will spend reading this tome of painful abstractions, "clues," and repetition? Everything. I repeat, everything.

The plot is surprisingly straightforward despite the countless expository twists and turns Murakami insists on including. The book is told from varying perspectives. The first involves Aomame (literally meaning "green peas"), a thirty-something-old woman, fitness instructor and furtive assassin working at the heart of Tokyo. She decides one day to leave a taxi that is caught in traffic to avoid missing a necessary "meeting" to murder a man she is contracted to kill. She climbs up and over a staircase at the edge of the highway in heels and a business suit, crosses a threshold, and finds her way out of a gated area to access the other side. However, without recognizing it, she has crossed over into a parallel universe. Immediately she begins to notice subtle changes that seem just slightly off enough to cause concern: modified police uniforms, unexplainable shifts in historical events, and then suddenly, the most obvious change, an addition of one tiny, green moon in conjunction with the normal one.

The second perspective is of Tengo Kawana, a man that Aomame is destined to find. Her fate is inextricably linked to Tengo, who is a writer, also in his thirties, helping ghostwrite a novel called The Air Chrysalis that was imagined by a young, and startlingly beautiful (albeit strangely enigmatic) young woman named Fuka-Eri. The three of them inadvertently disrupt the harmony between the two universes, both in Aomame’s departure from the old world, and in the pair’s creation of The Air Chrysalis: a book that exposes (and yet, really does not at all) the secret world of "The Little People," who apparently have the power to help or hurt anyone who seeks to disrupt the balance in both worlds. They invariably run into trouble as the three of them realize they are in far over their heads with this cult of "people" they do not readily know or understand.

This all seems comprehensible to a certain degree. But, whatever compelling material about cults, "The Little People," ritual incest orgies, murders, telekinesis, dead goats, Cher, and green moons runs dry after the first three hundred pages. The depth of one’s disappointment will grow with the death of each newly turned page after Book I. If anything, the novel turns into a horror story of regret and anxiety as everything one had hoped and desperately needed to be answered or explained is flitted away into oblivion; it’s as if Murakami was simply fucking with your mind for some kind of sadistic, nihilistic purpose. There are several reasons for feeling this way. Let’s explore them.

1. The Great Orwellian Nothing

It is fitting to discuss the title. 1Q84 seems to have little or nothing to do with Orwell’s original classic other than the novel’s setting of 1984. After meditating on the merits or lack thereof of this text and its figurative construction, I came to the conclusion that perhaps the Orwellian prison is the novel itself: you feel trapped in a text without any proper explanation or power to change it. You are forbidden from knowing the truth or full extent of your imprisonment. You turn page after page hoping for a more satisfying explanation about who or what everything is, how the worlds are related, and how the hell Aomame manages on becoming pregnant, Virgin Mary style, as a result of Tengo and Fuka-Eri getting righteously freaky beneath the covers one rainy and windy night. The "Q" in the title stands for question, because this novel leaves one with far too many. This torturous realization may actually award the book a modicum of ironic "kudos." It is difficult, in a sense, to write a story that is capable of frustrating its readers so perfectly that it mimics the very prison the title is intending to convey. But, this process invariably causes the actual story and salient concepts to suffer.

2. Who or What, the Fuck, Are "The Little People?"

One of the most intriguing and seemingly alarming aspects of the book is the presence of "The Little People." Apparently having manifested from the mouth of a corpse of a dead goat that was locked in a storeroom, "The Little People" can change from the size of peas to the height of a small child. They create "air chrysalises" that act as cocoons that usher in "dohtas" or body doubles into existence. They repeatedly say, "Ho, ho!" like some disquieting, dwarfish Santa Claus. Murakami makes no effort to fully disclose the true power or meaning of "The Little People." What at first is uncomfortable and eerily intriguing about these little murderers at the beginning of the novel eventually lapses into some kind of irritating comedy. Actually, I caught myself laughing maniacally with a certain brand of madness around page 900 or so when I realized that I would probably never know who or what they are.

3. The Art Of Brevity

1Q84 needed to be 800 pages shorter. Granted, it was released first in Japan as three separate books, but even so the amount of repetition and dull passages abound in each section. Either unbeknownst to Murakami, or done viciously on purpose, whole passages are nearly repeated word for word while never offering any new details to the largely ambiguous plot line. It just gets boring. The reader stops caring because the compelling characters are killed off: Ushikawa (an exceptionally ugly private investigator hired by Sakigake, the name of the cult compound "The Little People" control), The Leader (the telekinetic founder of Sakigake who suffers from mysterious and intriguing illnesses while fornicating incestuously with his own daughter and other young girls apparently against his will), and Ayumi (a sexually licentious police officer). After these characters die, the reader is left with the painfully exhaustive inner dialogue of both Aomame and Tengo as they quietly contemplate their confusion over an impending punishment that simply never occurs. Some may argue that the length itself is purposefully constructive, as if the length serves as a means to delve more realistically into the common happenstances of real living in real time. But that is precisely the problem. It is exhaustive and repetitious to read texts that seek to replicate or mimic the more mundane aspects of life as it is lived.

4. Ambiguous Much?

This is a deeply disappointing book for those who require an ounce of structure and purposeful direction while reading fiction. 1Q84 reads more like an exercise in stream of consciousness projection with hints and fragments of common themes. It may suit certain readers who prefer an entirely figurative and seemingly disjointed construction of texts, or those who enjoy literature that tries too hard to be meta; it’s as if Murakami specifically intended for the book to stretch its bizarre, "Little People" hands into our own universe and blend the two (or three?).

5. Bastion of Pretention

Changing the orientation of page numbers, including several "end credit" photos of moons close up and far away, as well as countless other "tricks" becomes overtly pretentious. Murakami is trying too hard to be obviously clever. It’s just such a shame because his previous work was so subtle and magical, so mischievous and surreal, that these additions feel inauthentic.

In Summary…

The phrase, "Don’t let appearances fool you. There’s only one reality" is possibly the key to understanding or appreciating 1Q84. If you completely forfeit any hope for consistent, engaging storytelling and simply focus on words as they are linked together in reality, then perhaps you may enjoy this text. But for me, 1Q84 came close to breaking my cognitive love affair with Murakami’s work. If it were not for his other spectacular writing, I would have written him off from my life forever. Thus, Haruki, I have to hand it to you Sir: 1Q84 has single-handedly destroyed a part of my bartered soul. And as a result, I in turn, destroyed it.

Review Scoring System: Grading A-F
Originality of ContentB
Plot StructureC-
Potential Achieved72.71%

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