1Q84 - Haruki Murakami / by Usamah Khan

I knew after reading "Norwegian Wood" that it wouldn't be long until I picked up something else from Haruki Murakami. I kept thinking about the simplicity in his style. It made that whole first reading experience so easy and it's what makes him so accessible as a writer. It's why, I believe, people who read him keep coming back. Definitely why I was so eager to read "1Q84". Once there, it didn't hurt that I was treated to an amazing display of imagination and storytelling on top of that.

I had no knowledge of what to expect this time round. "Norwegian Wood" had stunned me and I wanted to go in with a blank slate and see what other surprises lay in store. I had no assumptions except that there must be a reason his book was titled "1Q84" and I was to expect an Orwellian connection/evocation of some dystopian feel. Well..I wasn't wrong, but I guess I wasn't right either.

To build on this, I've found that recently I've enjoyed going into new books with no idea of plot or setting. Over the last few years, I've even stopped reading blurbs. Yes, it has it's drawbacks, but I've found it effective to work my way through genres, authors and eras by recommendations. I have a great group of well read friends, family and communities I follow so why not take advantage of that? I find I have less expectations, and reading through, I'm less likely to be influenced by my own bias. It's funny because this is just not how I operate in any other aspect of my life. When picking up anything new I scrutinize and research like my life depends on the decision I need to make. "The agony of choice" as it was put to me once. So I find it liberating that, if only just for books, I go in with no assumptions or expectations and just roll with it.

Starting out, Aomame's story set the tone much like the beginning of other crime storys/dramas that I like. A young woman finds herself in odd circumstances as she tries to perform a not so kosher job. The opening chapter was normal, but bizarre enough that I immediately had questions. This I learned, was to set the tone for the rest of the novel. Tengo's story started out very differently; A tale of a young man trying to get by as a writer in Tokyo while his eccentric colleague lures him in and begins plotting something that will end up being (a little) extraordinary. Just off balance enough to build excitement.

What I enjoyed the most in "1Q84" was the interplay of different styles and genres across chapters and volumes. The alternating chapters from just the two viewpoints of Tengo and Aomame in the first two volumes kept the pace flowing and, unlike in lets say "Game of Thrones" and other similarly styled fantasy novels, I was never tired of a character because I cared about another character more and it was taking to long to hear from them. Even when Ushikawa became a point of view character I was always hooked enough on each character's chapter that my excitement for the next never dwindled.

After I realized that the book was going to be cycling through points of view, I made my first informed assumption; Tengo and Aomame were going to meet somewhere down the line. I think the anticipation of this event was the driving point for my experience with the novel. In anticipation of this event the book took twists and turns like nothing I'd ever read. Crime, drama, romance, fantasy and science fiction all blended together and even now I'm hard pressed to find a good description and categorization of what kind of book this was.

Talking with different friends I've come to realize that the idea of picking this up is overwhelming for some people. At ~ 1200 pages, just the task of lifting the book to read is daunting and it reinforces the fact that its going to be quite a long read. However, it's one of those cases where if you read a lot you'll be happy for your experience. Having read numerous authors of different styles and genres avidly since a young age helped me appreciate and enjoy the book even more. I like that about Murakami. Even in "Norwegian Wood" it feels like he rewards readers who have some knowledge of literature. He makes you think back to novels critically when you didn't necessarily ever need to and if you did, you often find an opinion you had validated or now a point of discussion. Maybe that's just me, but I also know that's why I connect with his work so much.

Murakami's writing is wonderfully smooth. He'll often take a whole chapter to go through a single event or instance in all of its detail. Funnily enough, it's his slow pacing that allows you to read him so quickly. You're engrossed in every detail, right down to the smell of the Tokyo rain while Tengo cooks salmon and rice for dinner. You feel like you're a part of it. Not just as a spectator looking, but a guest invited to observe and take part.

I was talking with my roommate one day (incidentally the person who got me hooked on Murakami in the first place) and he mentioned that sometimes he finds he forgets a decent proportion of what happens. But we concluded that it wasn't a bad thing in our opinion. I do too, but so much in life is forgettable. What was the last thing you smelled before you read this? What hand did you use the last time you scratched your nose or took a sip of water? In a reality where you only remember 5% of any events you partake in in a day, reading about that other 95%, having that in the back of your mind reinforces what you do remember.

Interestingly enough, it's kind of how I feel about "Blade Runner". I've seen it maybe 10 times but for the life of me I always forget what happens and every time I watch it I pick up on something new. But what I never forget was how I felt the last time I was invited to take part in that world. After reading 1Q84, I'm starting to view my world just a little different too.