1Q84 – Murakami’s cult masterpiece

Haruki Murakami’s epic novel 1Q84 was an instant success in Japan and soon its publishers were in a mad rush to get the work published for the english language market.

Oddly mirroring the plot line in the novel where one of main characters ghost rewrites a story, the publishers of 1Q84 were in such a hurry to get it to market that they enlisted the services of two different writers to translate the work; one for books I and II, and another for book III.

Set it Japan in 1984 the story revolves around two central characters:

  • Aomame (written with the same characters as the word for “green peas” and pronounced Ah-oh-mah-meh); a female fitness instructor and part-time assassin
  • and Tengo, an aspiring novelist and part time editor and maths lecturer

The point of view alternates each chapter with Aomame and Tengo and the reader slowly learns their connection. Murakami enjoys playing with the time period too and takes his time explaining iconic objects of the time.

1Q84 features an immaculate   conception, telekinesis, transmigrating souls and a talking crow. But the   more blatant oddness of Murakami’s plots tends to distract us from their   roots in emotions that are just as unaccountable. A virtue of his writing is   that, carried away, you rarely sense the strain. – Anthony Cummins The Telegraph UK

Knopf / Getty Images

The title 1Q84 has its roots in a few different places; it is set in 1984, there is of course George Orwell’s novel 1984, and in the story Aomame coins the term for the odd version of the world she finds herself in; it is 1984 but also no longer the same. The name of the letter Q is also the same sound in Japanese as the number nine “Kyu”. And the complexity of this too mirrors that of the storyline in many ways.

…Yes, this is a Haruki Murakami novel, where magical and dreamlike phenomena are deadpanned into existence with the same calm craft that his characters routinely employ in cooking themselves delicious-sounding Japanese meals. – Stephen Poole, The Guardian UK

Murakami has a knack for oddball twists (talking cats, raining fish) and in 1Q84 this continues with terrifying “little people” emerging from the mouths of goats and people and a moss coloured second moon hanging in the sky.

Having Tengo and his editor and co-conspirator discuss the writing and editing process delivers some classic writing advice:

“When you introduce things that readers have never seen before into a piece of fiction, you have to describe them with as much precision and in as much detail as possible. What you eliminate from fiction is the description of things that most readers have seen.”

and on story development:

“Once a gun appears in a story, it will be shot and someone will die”. 

1Q84 is a masterpiece but I am left a little frustrated at having to read the translated story rather than Murakami’s original Japanese work.

Q is for 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

13 thoughts on “1Q84 – Murakami’s cult masterpiece

  1. Pingback: 1Q84: No Thank You | Not the Family Business!

  2. Pingback: A to Z Challenge – a retrospective « A Fettered Mind

  3. I haven’t read this: the last Murakami I read was ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’. I do love him as an author, but I feel, as you do, that the work loses something in translation. Isabel Allende’s writing is the same – it’s wonderful & lyrical in English but I suspect it’s 1000x better in Spanish. Ah, well.

  4. I keep thinking about your quote about the gun. Of course it will be shot. Every little detail an author includes must have a purpose or else it needs to be cut. But I’d never really thought about that quote as that and interesting you’d say that because I just finished writing a crime thriller where I did introduce a gun. And yes, it was used! lol

    A to Z co-host

  5. In spite of being so recommended, I’ve never been able to muster enough interest and pick up a Haruki Murakami book. Somehow I feel turned away by the quirkiness you point out –and that he’s so famous for, I think–, where I might wind up reading something disjointed for the sake of it.

    Maybe it’s my education as a writer. I always read the classics, the good old books, and hardly ever have I read any new material.

    • Hi Joe, 1Q84 hasn’t sold as well as it was expected to do in English, maybe it is this quikiness; the Japanese books I’ve read are all a bit like that too. But I found it was well worth the effort.

  6. To some extent I agree the story carries the reader along, with its quirks. I enjoyed the books, but was a little deflated at the ending. I won’t reveal it of course for those who have not read it yet, but I thought it a little lazy for Murakami.

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