I started Haruki Murakami's 1,000+ page novel on the 3rd of February and finished on Sunday. A book that long doesn't really get covered properly in one blog post, so I'm thinking this is going to be a week of 1Q84...lots of spoilers, lots of commentary, so be warned should you choose to read on. I thought I'd start out by answering the reader's guide questions, which can be found here, as I'm not really sure I can truly put my experience with the novel in my own words at the moment.
1. 1Q84 is a vast and intricate novel. What are the pleasures of reading such a long work, of staying with the same characters over such a long period of time?
This answer is simple the pleasure is that the people and places are so detailed that they become part of your person. Without meaning to and without your consent they change the way you think and feel because you spend so much time in the world the author has created. What's also interesting is that the author feels like a close-friend. This novel is no exception...I was sad to see the characters go, and if I met Mr. Murakami on the street I'd want to invite him for a cup of coffee.
2. Murakami has said he is a fan of the mystery writer Elmore Leonard. What elements of the mystery genre does 1Q84 employ? How does Murakami keep readers guessing about what will happen next? What are some of the book’s most surprising moments?
Elements of a mystery novel:
1] A main character who has the information it takes to solve the problem with back-up characters who believable help the main character on the journey
In this case there are two main characters and we could argue day and night about which one has the most information, but let's not. There are two main characters (Aomame and Tengo) and these two characters are trapped in a world different from our own, destine to meet one another, and are part of a much large fight...a fight which is more/different than a fight between good and evil. While there are several characters who help and hinder along the way, the story is truly theirs.
2] A believable setting
While I have never been to Japan (my mother was born in Kyoto in 1947) I have never wanted to go more than I want to go after reading this book...that's how believable this setting is. The setting is more than just Japan though as we have Fuka-eri's story, the setting of Tengo and Aomame's stories, respectively and the setting of the world that is created when these stories crash and collide and split apart and come together again, and it's all believable.
3] A suspenseful plot
By creating a story that is told from the point-of-view of two characters in the first two books and three in the third, and final installment, we are successfully kept on our toes...I mean seriously I just read 400 of pages of near misses and almost meetings between two people who haven't seen one another in 20 years and I lapped up every word. Actually, by th end of the book I wanted there to be more...lots more, as Murakami answers lots of questions and poses lots more, some of which aren't meant to be answered by going back to the book. Which he tells us all along...if things can't be understood without explanation they really can't be understood at all.
4] A problem or problems to be solved
Um, let's see Aomame, an assassin of abusive men, enters a world unlike her own. However, it is in this world, and only this world, that she and a boy who has changed her life can be together. Problems...where is Tengo? who is the Leader? who are the Little People? what are good and evil? what is the 'question'? whose story is being told? who is Fuka-eri?
5] A believable solution to said problem or problems
Sure, not everything has to have answers to be believed. We become part of the story.
3. Why would Murakami choose to set his story in 1984, the year that would serve as the title for George Orwell’s famous novel about the dangers of Big Brother?
I don't know exactly, definitely reading that book again! But, I'm sure it has something to do with Big Brother watching...except in this novel Big Brother is Murakami, Big Brother is also the Leader, Tengo and finally Aomame, as she creates her own world and understands that she can write her own story. Oh, and then there's the obvious...it needed to be a time with technology, but without the internet...
4. The taxi driver in Chapter 1 warns Aomame that things are not what they seem, but he also tells her: “Don’t let appearances fool you. There’s always only one reality” (p. 9). Does this statement hold true throughout the novel? Is there only one reality, despite what appears to be a second reality that Aomame and Tengo enter?
What we perceive is what is true...so, the only reality is the one that is perceived which means there's only one story and this is the story of Tengo and Aomami. I love the idea that all of this (and, there's lots of this) occurs so two people, who wouldn't have tried otherwise, can be together.
5. Aomame tells Ayumi: “We think we’re choosing things for ourselves, but in fact we may not be choosing anything. It could be that everything's decided in advance and we pretend we’re making choices. Free will may be an illusion” (p. 192). Do the events in the novel seem fated or do the characters have free will?
Nothing is fated. We learn that we can choose to have free will. We learn that we write our own histories. We also learn that our hearts will write our stories when our minds are too full or convoluted and our muscles are too weak to run.
6. When Tamaru bids goodbye to Aomame, he says: “If you do go somewhere far away and I never see you again, I know I’ll feel a little sad. You’re a rare sort of character, a type I’ve seldom come across before” (p. 885). What type of person is Aomame? What qualities make her extraordinary?
Aomame is that perfect female character, she's sexy and thoughtful and passionate, and you believe she could willfully kill men with nothing but a make-shift, ever so sharp, ice-pick, have dirty sex with strangers and be totally head-over heels in love with a boy she never really talked to and hasn't seen in 20 years. She is a woman that is so angry over the death of her friend she becomes an assassin and, yet the reader totally believes she feels true tenderness for the baby growing inside of her. It is easy to believe what she believes, as she is so reasonable and rational and real.
7. The dowager insists, and Aomame agrees, that the killing they do is completely justified, that the men whom they kill deserve to die, that the legal system can’t touch them, and that more women will be victims if these men aren’t stopped. Is it true that Aomame and the dowager have done nothing wrong? Or are they simply rationalizing their anger and the desire for vengeance that arises from their own personal histories?
Of course, they are doing something wrong, although one might argue that they are putting balance in the world. It isn't until the night of the storm and the conversation with the Leader that either even recognize that they were so angry and that they might be doing what they were doing out of vegeance, as well as justice and safety.
8. Tengo realizes that rewriting Air Chrysalis is highly unethical and that Komatsu is asking him to participate in a scam that will very likely cause them both a great deal of trouble. Why does he agree to do it?
He is drawn to the story. He is compelled to rewrite it. He felt this way before meeting Fuka-eri and after meeting her he isdrawn in to the 'cat town', and must rewrite it in order to create his own story.
9. How does rewriting Air Chrysalis change Tengo as a writer? How does it affect the course of his life?
He gets inspired to create his own story involving the same setting only he writes Aomame into the story. Rewriting the story gives him the courage to write his own story and it gives him the basis for said story. Without Fuka-eri and Air Chrysalis he wouldn't have reconciled with his father, made true friends, understood where he belong and found Aomame.
10. How do the events that occur on the night of the huge thunderstorm alter the fates of Aomame, Tengo, Fuka-Eri, and the dowager? Why do Aomame and the dowager let go of their anger after the storm?
After the night of the storm Fuka-Eri becomes a secondary character. The dowager is no longer mysterious, or as powerful as she seemed in the beginning. It is no longer her story we are living. It is also after this night that Tengo and Aomame are tied together and it is because of what happens this night that the lives of all those involved is spared. The storm releases so much tension that even the book seems lighter after it. The characters become vehicles whose jobs are to draw Tengo and Aomame together. We are fully in Tengo's story and he must learn that he doesn't have to have all the answers. Then there's that strange NHK ghost man and because of Ushikawa we learn that there are others who can see the two moons; we learn that this story has more than one possible ending.
11. At first, Ushikawa is a creepy, totally unlikable character. How does Murakami make him more sympathetic as the novel progresses? How do you respond to his death?
He becomes a character with his own story. He, too, can see the two moons and he is only beginning to become aware of the fact that he can write his own story and change his fate. I didn't mind that he died, I just didn't like how he died...unable to speak, unable to share his story.
12. Near the end of the novel, Aomame declares: “From now on, things will be different. Nobody else’s will is going to control me anymore. From now on, I’m going to do things based on one principle alone: my own will” (p. 885). How does Aomame arrive at such a firm resolve? In what ways is the novel about overcoming the feeling of powerlessness that at various times paralyzes Aomame, Ayumi, Tengo, Fuka-Eri, and all the women who are abused by their husbands? What enables Aomame to come into her own power?
She realizes that, while she was kind of tricked into going to 1Q84, she belongs there in that story (the story that Tengo has created is just as much her's as it is his) and because she belongs there she can also figure out how to get out and she knows that she possesses all the power to do so. We overcome our feeling of powerlessness by understanding that at any time we can change our paths, leave 'the cat town', write our stories and use our personal histories to make us stronger. Aomame realizes that she is not alone that she has love...the love of the little person growing inside her and the love of a guy who'd been searching for her and wanted to be with her as much as she wanted and searched for him.
13. What does the novel as a whole seem to say about fringe religious groups? How does growing up in the Society of Witnesses affect Aomame? How does growing up in Sakigake cult affect Fuka-Eri? Does Leader appear to be a true spiritual master?
Fringe religious groups have good in them, just as any religious group does, it's the people who screw it up. Faith comes from the heart, not from rules and ritual. The Society turned Aomame away from God because she thought God was how the Society perceived Him to be. She didn't realize that God wanted to help her and thought she was beautiful, that he was present even without being called and He would be there to help, not hinder. Fuka-Eri is literally split in two because of Sakigake...she is separated from the best part of her and even at the end they are not back together and we assume they never will be. And, finally, I think the Leader wanted to be a true spiritual master but the religion got in the way; it always does--darned people and their need to hear voices to fill the void.
14. What is the appeal of the fantastic elements in the novel—the little people, maza and dohta, the air chrysalis, two moons in the sky, alternate worlds, etc.? What do they add to the story? In what ways does the novel question the nature of reality and the boundaries between what is possible and not possible?
The appeal for me is that all of those science fiction elements drew me in and I spent the novel wrapped up in the aspects of this story that reminded me of Infinite Jest, Dune and the Matrix. These elements keep us, the reader, outside of the novel while also making us part of the story in the novel. If anything this novel shows us that the novels we read, the shows and movies we watch are part of us and become part of our story. We are influenced by what we see and read and, well, nothing is impossible if we are willing and ready to believe.
15. What makes the love story of Tengo and Aomame so compelling? What obstacles must they overcome to be together? Why was the moment when Aomame grasped Tengo’s hand in grade school so significant?
Because in the end all we really want is a good love story and, in some ways, we like to imagine that the first person who rocked our world will come back around when the time is right. There are many obstacles that Tengo and Aomame must overcome, but they have created all the obstacles. When they learn this fact it is easy for them to find each other and because the love one another it is easy for 20 years of questioning and yearning, loneliness and searching can all washaway. We learn that when Aomame held his hand she gave Tengo a package that held them and their worlds together.
16. In what ways does 1Q84 question and complicate conventional ideas of authorship? How does it blur the line between fictional reality and ordinary reality?
It sas that the author is only one part of the story...the characters are the other part and they do what they must do. We are the story and within our world there are worlds being created.
17. References to the song “Paper Moon” appear several times in the novel. How do those lyrics relate to 1Q84?
If we have love and we believe and we have people who love and believe in us everything is real and nothing is impossible.
18. What role does belief play in the novel? Why does Murakami end the book with the image of Tengo and Aomame gazing at the moon until it becomes “nothing more than a gray paper moon, hanging in the sky” (p. 925)?
Belief can tear down walls and open up worlds. Belief can save you and your loved ones. The paper moon signifies that this story continues, that their worlds and ours all tie together and that we determine what is real and what is fantastic.
If you are interested in reading the book, Reading the Chunksters has started it come join in on the conversation here!