Around this time of year, we make resolutions – conventionally with the idea to improve ourselves, to change bad or off-putting habits, and to make ourselves better. Haruki Murakami’s latest published novel 1Q84 could be the perfect reading matter to accompany this. Firstly, pushing 1000 pages into three volumes, it is a test of reading stamina, particularly with its convoluted and winding narrative and resistance to easy interpretation. Secondly, it’s a book that explores transformation, appearance, and the overturn of the normal. There is no genre it doesn’t borrow from; it is a mood piece, a dystopian thriller, a romance, a horror and sci-fi epic all at once.
The book opens by following two seemingly unconnected people: Aomame, a shadowy personal trainer with a lethal set of skills put to noble use, and Tengo, a struggling freelance writer. Tengo is approached by his editor to rewrite the nearly illegible manuscript with a prodigious plot and style from a seventeen-year-old girl, called Air Chrysalis. The development of the novel is plagued by a series of events and whispers of a dangerous mountain-based cult, known as Sakigake.
The novel features classic Murakami tropes: loner outsiders being drawn together by strange events, the grimness and loneliness at the heart of urban life and, of course, foreboding cats. However, this is his most ambitious and daring work to date. The clue is in the title regarding the trilogy’s Orwellian inspiration, but the surveillance-culture horror is more abstract and mythologised here. The omnipresent ‘Little People’, that also feature in Air Chrysalis, cross over from page to reality as a terrifyingly callous and untouchable antagonist force. The two moons that hang in the sky, and that only Aomame sees, have the same bite and chill as the clock striking thirteen in 1984.
What is most striking about 1Q84 is the idea of the possibility of the parallel universe as a driving force for human action and moral choice. This novel confronts the reader with a tantalising idea of an alternate reality; a surrogate self through which impossible events can be realised –the idea of the ‘chrysalis’ should give you a clue about how Murakami achieves this.
For anyone who is feeling the January blues or toying with the idea of what your doppelgänger could be up to, read this book. If you enjoy reading authors like George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Robert Louis Stevenson or are a fan of sci-fi films like Alien or Another Earth, you will love this book. The feat of finishing it alone should be enough, though there is plenty within its numerous pages to reward the curious reader.
Book review by Jessica Oliver