Lightning Review: 1Q84

I am warning those who have never read Murakami before that that is NOT the novel to start with.

–Ias Cosas,

The review system outlined in the beginning of this piece maps out how I’ll try to review nonfiction from now on. Not so sure about fiction, which isn’t as goal-oriented.

I finished this 1,156-page book and can’t figure out if I am better off for reading it or not. –Ninette Enrique,

And since I drafted this review long ago, I’ll try something different, limiting myself to 500 words—roughly 1 for each 1000 Haruki Murakami used to write 1Q84.


1Q84 is a very long book. I would like to tell you that it is too long.

But I read one of its 1156 pages, and in that context, what does “too long” even mean?

The book is about aliens, writing contests, child prodigies, cult leaders, massage therapy, and the end of the world. But the plot isn’t very important in the grand scheme of the reading experience. Neither are the characters. So I’m just going to write down some thoughts and see what happens.

In its weird stickiness, the book reminds me of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Murakami shares a number of Stieg Larsson’s habits, or vice-versa. Both cast hapless but likeable leading men alongside beautiful, dangerous, and sexually deviant women. Both struggle to sculpt the mildest of intrigue into plot worthy of a long novel. Both somehow hook us with “twists and turns” barely suitable for a child-size roller coaster at a provincial amusement park. Both treat the slightest disclosure of information as though it were a revelation.

Finally, both are obsessed with the basic lifestyle habits of their characters. I still remember Lisbeth Salander shopping for Red Baron pizza, and I doubt that I’ll ever forget the phrase “Aomame prepared a simple meal”. Sometimes, it feels like all 1Q84 characters ever do is prepare simple meals. But that’s reductionist. They also hold hands, give each other back rubs, decide what to wear, have wild sex with strangers, and murder men by plunging small ice picks into the backs of their necks.


This is one of Murakami’s greatest strengths: he populates a world with unbelievable people and concepts, then talks about them as mildly as possible until you forget how strange it all is.

It’s a cliche to call his books “dreamlike” at this point, but I’ll try to rescue myself by pointing out that they mimic a very specific type of dream. This is what I call the “shaggy dog” dream, during which you perform normal activities in a world that isn’t quite the real world, with a sense of menace always hanging over you, but never approaching close enough to threaten your existence. And you don’t really care about your existence, anyway, because you realize in another part of your mind that you are, in fact, dreaming.

But events transpire all the same, and you can’t get free of your subconscious until the moon disappears in the light of the rising sun.

If you find these kinds of dreams intriguing, or inspiring, you are likely to enjoy this book. But other Murakami books do similar things, with more plot and less wandering around. Kafka on the Shore is one of my favorite novels. Read those 500 pages before the 1156 pages of 1Q84.

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