Murakami’s Parallel Failure

I began reading “1Q84” without any prior knowledge of the genre, the plot or even who the author was. In fact, I stumbled across the book with the same naive casualness that you now face while reading this.

I would later learn that the novel’s author, Haruki Murakami, is a popular Japanese writer who has written many bestsellers. “1Q84” is a trilogy originally released in Japanese through 2009 and 2010, and has now been translated for the first time into English.

And yet, even with my utter ignorance, the book still failed in leaving any lasting impression. The plot is simple: two lovers destined for each other must overcome obstacles in order to be united.

This is not to say that the story is in want of imagination. In fact, 1Q84 is a surreal world with two moons, Little People who walk out of the mouths of corpses and kinky, graphic sex.

The story is set in 1984 Japan. Aomame, the female protagonist, is a gym instructor in her late twenties. She lives a solitary lifestyle, having neither friends nor a boyfriend, although she does indulge in the occasional one night stand.

The first chapter begins with Aomame stuck in a taxi cab during a traffic jam, making her late to meet with a client. While dressed in the only formal outfit she owns, she decides to jump out of the car and walk through traffic. She exits via an emergency ladder, and it is at this precise moment that Aomame unknowingly enters the world 1Q84.

The story also follows Tengo, a male protagonist also in his late twenties. His ambition is to become a published author, but in the meantime, he teaches math at a cram school.

Unlike Aomame, Tengo does engage in some human interaction, (though mostly with his editor, and he has brief sexual encounters with a married woman 10 years his senior). Tengo and Aomama lead separate and lonely lives.

Loneliness pervades the story, with each character living with an emptiness that lingers throughout their daily routines. And though Murakami excellently describes this emotional void of isolation, he creates a story that in itself is void of substance.

1Q84 is the name Aomame gives the other world. There are two distinguishing features that separate 1Q84 from 1984: the Little People and the two moons. It is best to think of the Little People as Big Brother: an invisible force that looms over the city, watching every step and interfering in the people’s lives.

Aomame and Tengo find themselves in 1Q84; both have upset the Little People and must deal with the consequences.

The first book has a slow start, with chapters alternating between Aomamae’s and Tengo’s perspectives. Aomame’s perspective is occasionally humorous, particularly when she describes her infatuation for balding middle-aged men.

Despite the sporadic humor, the plot does not begin to unravel until the middle of the first book, and even when it does, the progression is not rapid. Murakami’s style helps to sustain the intrigue of the story, though, revealing only snippets of information that leave the reader puzzled and wanting more.

The second book seemed promising, as there was much more background given on the characters and the Little People. Even so, the bulk of the book is filled with repetition and melodrama.

The characters are in such a constant state of introspection that it becomes nauseating; it’s like reading the journal of a self-absorbed nitwit. No new information is given to add momentum to the story; the characters simply pine for answers. The combination of internal monologues and the plot of destined lovers makes the story feel like more of a teen melodrama.

By the third book, the reader is submerged fully into the oddness of 1Q84, but surrealism alone can’t garnish the story with meaning.

At its core, “1Q84” is just a love story set in a strange and unusual world. Perhaps this critic is simply a cynic, annoyed by stories about an unwavering love that seems predestined. Regardless, the plot ultimately loses all of its steam and only deepens itself into further redundancy.

The lasting message of “1Q84” was meant to be that love makes life worth living, but this is a weak conclusion to arrive at after 900 pages. The characters’ obstacles are less than interesting, and the surrealism is only impressive since the story itself is lacking. In the end, there was no real lasting impression and I was happy I had kept my receipt.

Rating: 2 out of 5