Wednesday, January 20, 2016

1Q84: The Complete Trilogy by Haruki Murakami, translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel

1Q84: The Complete Trilogy
Haruki Murakami
Translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel (Japanese)
Originally 2009-2010, I read 2012 Vintage paperback edition
1318 pages, speculative, psychological, friendship, romance

Aomame, whose name means "green pea," has a complicated past and an even more complicated present. When she finds herself in an altered reality, she must determine the new rules if she wants to survive.

Tengo is a cram school mathematics teacher and aspiring fiction author. When his editor asks him to ghostwrite a revised version of a novella, he has moral qualms – but in the end, the story is so compelling that he accepts, unknowingly falling into danger.

In this marvelous trilogy, Murakami takes us into the world of these two lonely people. But what is real? And why are there suddenly two moons in the sky?


One of the things I like most about Murakami’s writing is the way he focuses on friendship. The friendships in this novel feel solid, real. This is something that is not very common; authors have a tendency to focus only on romantic relationships. It is incredibly refreshing to read a deep work about friendship itself.

Aomame’s character is particularly shaped by her strong friendships. One of her very good friends from when she was a teenager committed suicide, which severely impacted Aomame’s emotional state. This is normal and completely understandable, and not something authors emphasize enough. In the course of the novel, another of Aomame’s female friends is the victim of a gruesome murder. When she hears, Aomame cries for days. Importantly, she lets herself cry for days, performing the necessary emotional work to deal with her grief. Then there is her friendship with her employer, the Dowager, a close relationship that is almost familial. Both of them rely on this strong, intergenerational friendship.

Tengo does not have nearly as many friends, perhaps because he was never able to sever himself from his family as fully as Aomame did. When the original author of the novella (a rather strange teenage girl) decides to be his friend, he is happy that he has someone to talk to. Tengo quickly learns how to interpret her abbreviated way of speaking and thinking, and takes care of her when she decides to hide out in his house.


Murakami is not shy about talking explicitly about sex. This is wonderful, because in his descriptions it becomes a very normal thing (which it is), and there is no feeling of shame associated with it.

I am especially impressed by his descriptions of the female perspective. Aomame is a full-fledged sexual being; when she gets the urge, she masturbates and has one-night stands with men she meets at bars. Her experiences (both emotional and physical) are realistically described, and I am very impressed by Murakami's ability to understand how women feel about sex and how sex feels to women.

Temporal setting

Murakami’s idea to set this novel in 1984 provides a number of interesting opportunities. This is obviously a reference to the Orwell novel, although there is not really much similarity between the two works. But more importantly, the level of technology that was available in 1984 provides a completely different context than the one in which we live now.

Due to the limited technology available at this time period, the characters find it much more difficult to do background checks, locate people, or find out other information that is important to the story. If the internet were available in the setting of this novel, the story would have been completely different; the technologies that limit the characters' actions would not exist.

It is good sometimes to be reminded that there was a time before computers or the internet. Or cell phones, which would have solved many of the characters' problems.

Murakami’s writing

Perhaps more than any other author, Murakami’s writing matches the way my life feels.  His emphasis is on what the characters are thinking, and he walks the reader through their whole thought process. Books and music are an intimate part of the story, sparking new ideas and new possibilities, which are then incorporated into the way they see the world. This way of writing feels comfortable in a way that few authors' writing styles do, at least to me.

Some people might get annoyed with the leisurely pace of this 1300-page book. I enjoyed it, because the characters are given the room to fully breathe and take shape as people with their own lives and motivations. Tengo and Aomame no longer feel like characters, but like people I know well. This was incredibly enjoyable.

I loved this book. It is officially one of my favorite novels. I recommend it for everyone, even if you are not a fan of speculative fiction.

1Q84 is available wherever books are sold. 

Read my review of Colorless Tsukaru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage 

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