IQ84 by Haruki Murakami is a romance story between Tengo and Aomame spread across three books. The books are set in the year 1984. The “Q” stands for “Question,” and this title makes sense when Aomame notices certain inconsistencies in the world around her (presence of two moons in the sky) and realizes that she might be existing in a parallel universe.
First things first, don’t get overwhelmed by the length of this book (1300+ pages). The translation is smooth, and it is an easy read. Secondly, the story would seem straightforward from an overarching perspective – boy and girl meet, have an instant connection, part, and reconcile. But the story has been turned complicated by religious cults, parallel universes, and realism dystopia.
I found Aomame’s character especially thrilling. She is a contractual killer of abusive husbands. On the other hand, Tengo has a day job as a math teacher and a side-hustle of a novelist. In the beginning, the reader keeps oscillating between Aomame and Tengo’s story with no visible connection. But later, their story converges in mysterious ways, and a childhood connection between them (that exists well into adulthood) is revealed.
Aomame is late for her “job” and upon a taxi driver’s suggestion, takes an emergency stairway. Tengo begins to ghostwrite a novel on his editor’s suggestion called Air Chrysalis written by Fuka-Eri, a 17-year old girl who escaped from a religious cult, Sakigage. This is the turning point for both the characters when they begin to enter 1Q84.
All hell breaks loose when the reader and characters begin to suspect that Air Chrysalis is not a fictional novel. There are whimsical “little people” who crawl out of the mouth of a goat and weave a structure called ‘air chrysalis.’ Witness Tengo’s inner dialogue when he realizes this:
“Could this mean, then that this is the world of the novel? Could I have somehow left the real world and entered the world of Air Chrysalis like Alice falling down the rabbit hole? Or could the real world have been made over so as to match exactly the story of Air Chrysalis?”
There are much more nuances in the book than one article can contain. There’s Tengo’s and Aomame’s similarly bruised childhood, a police-officer friend of Aomame, the dowager who pays Aomame to kill abusive husbands and her story and her security guard’s story, there’s Tengo’s editor Komatsu, there’s the cult leader that Aomame intends to kill who is just called “The Leader,” and then there’s Fuka-Eri.
But this novel is far from perfect, and you might want to read the shortcomings of this book before you begin this gigantic novel.
Shortcomings of “1Q84”
Murakami has a cult of readers, and I’m not yet one of them. This was the first book I read by Haruki, and I was a little disappointed because of the following reasons:
1. The character development of both Tengo and Aomame is relatively vague. Tengo is devoid of ambition, and Aomame has that mysterious and scary vibe that’s a total mirage of her true identity. Both characters often seem two-dimensional.
2. 1Q84 has tons of purposeless misogynistic beliefs that provoke no thought and add no meaning to the story. Almost all female characters in the book are written as fantasy – there’s Tengo’s older married girlfriend who only serves the purpose of sex and is given no name, there’s Aomame having a lesbian experience just to please men, there’s Fuka-Eri’s breasts that have more mention than her personality or writing, and then there’s the police-woman friend of Aomame’s who constantly wants to have sex with her for no plausible reason (she isn’t even grappling with her sexuality).
3. Murakami focuses a lot on the minute details of daily life. You get a lot of characters cooking food, wasting time, reading, avoiding NHK fee collectors, etc. And at first, it is a differentiating factor of the writing style. But by book 3, this literary device is stale (too much cooking, really).
4. The third book seems a bit out of sync compared to the first two and leaves many plot holes unattended. I want to know more about the “Little People,” but that plot is left loose. Many such concepts have just their periphery explored.
The book, despite its shortcomings, has a good plot. The love story is cute, and the complex situations are made easy to follow by smooth writing.
If you are already a Murakami fan, you’ll like this book with its glaring troubles too. But if you’re new to his work like me, skip 1Q84.
Find this book on Amazon here.