fiction, review

1Q84

Indonesian edition’s covers

Truth is stranger than fiction. Or so they say. 1Q84 is a work in which Haruki Murakami proves to us that truth is not only stranger than fiction, but it could be stranger than anything. Divided into three parts, the big chunk of a book leads the reader into a world of impossible possibilities, rather “irrational” belief, and unimaginable-yet-feel-so-real events. Here, the atmosphere is so different from that of Norwegian Wood I remember, but Murakami still keeps his peculiar nature of storytelling.

The story begins with Aomame, a woman with an obviously weird name, being on her way to accomplish a deadly mission dropped in her lap. Sitting in the taxi taking her to her fatal destination, stuck and bored in heavy traffic, Aomame cannot do anything but listen to the music played on the radio inside the car: Sinfonietta by Janácěk. She has no idea as to how she can know that it is Sinfonietta by Janácěk, she just knows. It’s already weird enough that the taxi is such a fancy car and has such a luxurious radio playing such music, so the fact that she can recognize the music she hears then and there almost misses her attention. Weirder than that though is the fact that, in the middle of the traffic jam, the taxi driver suggests her to get off the vehicle and take the emergency stairway down to the National Highway 246. She knows, with no doubt, that there is no such emergency stairway.

On the other hand, Tengo Kawana, a young math teacher with no bright future but secretly keeping a strong desire to be a novelist, is faced with an impossible offer: ghostwriting a novel for a young debut author. This is a very good opportunity for him, says Komatsu, the editor of the book in question, to sharpen his writing talent and ability before he can publish his own work. Tengo feels reluctant, at first, because he knows it’s a crime, morally if not legally. But there is something about the book, Air Chrysalis, that attracts him the way no other books ever do. There is something about the story, which is a form of fantasy tale, that pulls him into a state of wonderful amazement and forces him to say yes to the ambitious editor. Not only that, the entire narrative of Air Chrysalis also pulls him into a world that is not here. A world that is similar to the one he is living in but just not the same in any ways. And, unfortunately, a world he has to rewrite to make it a perfect tale to read.

As the story progresses, both Aomame and Tengo find themselves immersed in that world, doing unconsciously what the “other force” seems to make them to do and fighting it at the same time. They also, in their own ways, find the fact that they never cease to feel in love with each other and still want each other even years after their last time in class together. But in the world of 1Q84, a strange world with two moons and Little People, they cannot be together without sacrificing one of themselves. Aomame knows this, and she’s willing to do anything to have the slightest chance to meet Tengo again. Even if she has to fight the Little People and face the possibility of losing her own life.

1Q84 can be classified as metafiction. Murakami seems to keep reminding the reader that this is fiction about fiction, about something unreal happening out of our usual world. Even the characters are aware of it. To make it a successful work of this kind, Murakami would even painstakingly divide the plot into layered subplots where the characters realize their existence in the shifting world as the storyline moves on. Thankfully, the reader need not painstakingly track the path since the entire plot is so easy to follow. It’s like the characters directly talk to us while they are experiencing chapter by chapter of their unbelievable lives. What makes the narrative a little bit lacking here is the pace, which has different speed in each part and makes the reader quite exhausted at the end of the book. This is where Murakami fails to keep his story as a neat, maintained piece. The pace is, I’d rather say, unstable: enjoyable at first, too fast at the second part, and then too slow to swallow all the explanations at the end. It’s almost as if being a big chunk is entirely pointless, while the book has actually so much to say.

What might keep the reader’s interest in the whole story is probably the characters. They are very well written, strongly described. Each characterization is so powerful it stays in our mind, especially that of Aomame. I’m not sure if Murakami is being a feminist here, but he describes her as strong, decisive, resolute, overall better than the well-built-but-meek Tengo. But I won’t judge him unfairly here, because I, too, find myself in him: his unwillingness to be tied to anyone or anything, his love for writing, his determination to get the answers for all the questions he has about his past, his fondness for living in the simple way he likes. However opposite their characters are, I could feel that they really are made for each other, hence the attraction to be together.

To some extent, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is a great novel. I enjoyed most of it, despite the weakness in the run of the story and some irrational scenes. It’s a wonderful work where Murakami succeeds in convincing us that the unreal is also real, that realities could blend together with imaginations, that truth, once again, can be stranger than fiction. Than anything, even.

Rating: 3.5/5

Note: This review is submitted to fulfill Opat’s 2016 Japanese Literature Reading Challenge.

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3 thoughts on “1Q84”

  1. It’s strange but addictive, I go into his work knowing it has a kind of hallucinatory aspect, but somehow he keeps it interesting and intriguing for the reader, no matter that it is bizarre. It’s like visiting Squat 59 in Paris, a house of artists, each room the entrance into a bizarre new world, a peek into extraordinary imaginations.

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