Monday, April 16, 2012


At the worst of times, reading a nearly 1000 page novel can be a long, tiring slog. At the best of times, it can be an experience that transports you into another world entirely. Luckily, Murakami's epic 1Q84 falls into the latter category. Each time I cracked its cover over the past weeks, I was excited to step into its alternate universe. Which is somewhat ironic, since the plot actually involves an alternate universe. It also involves a pair of star crossed lovers, an old fashioned private detective, ghostwriters and literary agents, religious cults, alter egos, hints of reincarnation, and a band of all-knowing "little people" who emerge from the mouths of sleeping people, dead bodies...or dead goats. In other words, it's nearly impossible to discuss the specifics of the plot, characters, or themes in a way that will make sense to anyone who hasn't already read the book.

As fascinating as all of the surreal elements are, I found myself equally, and possibly even more, fascinated by little details of the writing style and language choices. Small things that I noticed throughout the novel stacked up to create an overall tone that seemed to be equal parts Murakami’s own unique style, English translation choices, and Japanese cultural details. Here are a couple examples of the kinds of things I noticed, and what they left me wondering:

In certain scenes, the dialogue between characters is incredibly stilted and clinical sounding. Characters repeat what’s already been said and tend to describe their most minute, obvious actions. One specific instance that comes to mind involves two characters having dinner at restaurant together. One says to the other something to the effect of, “Let’s close our menus now so that the waiter will know to come take our order.” If I saw a line like this in any other book, I would likely dismiss it as bad writing, but somehow, in Murakami’s hands, I’m willing to go with it. I do wonder, though, if this was a deliberate stylistic choice on his part or if it’s something that would sound less awkward and seem less extraneous if read in the original Japanese.

Besides characters repeating lines of dialogue back to one another, there’s also a ton of repetition in the vein of plot points being reviewed over and over. Each new chapter takes time to recap what was happening with the characters when we last left them in an earlier chapter. Even the names given to certain characters or objects do this to a certain degree. Someone is referred to as being a certain character’s “older girlfriend” for nearly half the novel before she’s ever referred to by name. Again I wonder if this kind of repetition is something that’s common in Japanese literature or is it unique to Murakami? Was it included because the book was published in multiple parts in Japan (that were, amazingly, each translated by a different person)?

Although I did enjoy the overall story, what 1Q84 really left me with is a desire to read more fiction set in Japan or dealing with Japanese culture. Not only do I want to read more of Murakami’s work, but I’d like to find other Japanese authors to read as a point of comparison. Do tell if you have any recommendations for me on that front. And if you’ve read 1Q84, I’d love to know what you thought of it!

(P.S.- Apologies if the title of this post looks confusing. Apparently the new font I switched to doesn't really lend itself to capital Qs.)


  1. As soon as school's out, I'll have to borrow Leslie's copy. Sounds really intriging...

  2. Is this the first Murakami you've read? I haven't gotten to it yet, but from what I hear it's not his best. I'd start with The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, that is, if you haven't already.

    1. I've only read a couple of others (After Dark and After the Quake). More of his are definitely on my To Read list. I've heard good things about Kafka on the Shore, too.

  3. Dance Dance Dance s where I started and after reading a number of his other books I'd have to say that it's a good place to start. Windup Bird Chronicle is intense to say the least. Haven't read 1Q84 yet but from your review it sounds typical of Murakami.

  4. I'm a huge Murakami fan but was way too daunted by the size and scope of 1Q84 to review it. You, however, provide a wonderful and succinct review of this colossal book. I'd certainly recommend Kafka on the Shore if you're looking to read anything else by Murakami soon!



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