A bestseller internationally, Haruki Murakami is frequently mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature on the basis of several spectacular novels, including Kafka on the Shore, A Wild Sheep Chase, and my personal favorite The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. As has been widely noted, Murakami’s fiction often has a luminous and somewhat surreal or fantastical quality as a natural part of the novelist’s worldview. His fiction also almost always features cats, sometimes in mysterious roles.
At 925 pages, Murakami’s latest novel 1Q84 features all of these trademarks, including the cats, but on a much more massive scale. There has been some resistance to that scale from some reviewers, perhaps because the length tends to further emphasize and highlight the open-ended nature of Murakami’s approach to fiction. However, careful and immersive readers will love this mind-bending story. What is 1Q84 “about”? I’m afraid it’s one of those novels where any pat description fails to convey the true essence and its capacity for brilliant digressions feeding back into the main story. But perhaps the publisher’s description—which calls it a love story, a fantasy, a dystopia, and a novel of self-discovery—is as good a starting point as any:
The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo. A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.