Diversifying your bookshelf: the worlds of Haruki Murakami

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Born in Kyoto, Japan on January 12th, 1949, Haruki Murakami has produced 27 revolutionary novels. All a part of the magical realism and surrealism genre, Murakami’s works of fiction are unique and extraordinary. My father first introduced me to Murakami’s books, and I am ever grateful for that introduction. 

Eagerly rummaging around my father’s bookcase during lockdown, I devoured every Murakami book he owned. Whilst I started with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle to the infamous Norwegian Wood (as recommended by Harry Styles), my eyes began to slowly drift towards the mighty 1,318-page novel proudly placed on the shelf. 1Q84. Selling one million copies within a month in Japan, this novel was intimidating, threatening almost.

Just skimming through the abundance of words on the pages, I was already overflowing with avidity. As expected, I raced through this novel like wildfire, becoming so deeply engaged with Murakami’s writing style, the protagonists, and their storylines, that I felt completely emptied inside when I had finished it. 

I felt completely emptied inside when I had finished

With two narratives running parallel to one another, that of Aomame and Tengo’s, despite originally juxtaposing one another, their narratives begin to merge at the end due to their momentary childhood romance.

Aomame, whose name humorously translates to green peas, is an assassin who murders male rapists, abusers, and paedophiles. Attempting to escape traffic on her way to an assassin mission, she hurriedly climbs down the expressway emergency stairway, yet when she emerges from the other side, she is no longer in 1984, but 1Q84. She notices subtle changes – the police now carry semi-automatics rather than revolvers and more peculiarly there are now two moons – one normal one and another smaller, green one. 

In contrast, Tengo is a quintessential maths teacher who has a burning passion for writing fiction – a passion that leads him into the year of 1Q84. Becoming a ghostwriter for Fuka-Eri, a 17-year-old girl who has great ideas yet lacks the ability to execute these ideas, he gets trapped in this fictional book which becomes reality – the same reality Aomame is stuck in.

From the ‘Little People’ in Fuka-Eri’s novel coming to life to her father being able to execute telekinesis – this is far from a normal world. Foreshadowed by Aomame’s taxi driver who says, ‘there is only one reality’, both protagonists are plunged into a journey of discovering what this ‘reality’ is – what is real and what is fictional.

Yet this world is not comparable to Alice in Wonderland where the rabbit hole plunges her into a fantasy world of mad hatters and rabbits wearing waistcoats, but is a world that has become reality. There is no parallel world, no way to crawl back through the rabbit hole to the ‘real world’ – they cannot escape, or can they? 

Every word, sentence and paragraph has a deeper meaning

Despite The Atlantic bashing 1Q84, labelling it ‘the literary equivalent of biting into a large, pumped-up soufflé’ that leaves you ‘still hungry’, this criticism strikes me as unfair. They labelled the endless words on the pages as meaningless, lacking substance and flavour, the same way the appearance of a soufflé looks filling yet is rather the opposite.

Although a clever comparison, I strongly disagree. For me, 1Q84 is more of a lemon meringue pie. It requires intense labour, perfect precision, and execution – many rarely pull it off, a rarity that Murakami has achieved. Its lemon filling is not too bitter or too sweet, its crust is not too hard or too soft – the same way a pie’s flavour satisfies the taste buds, Murakami’s writing feeds my brain.

Every word, sentence and paragraph has a deeper meaning, each time bringing me closer to the storyline, the parallel narratives – the discovery of ‘reality’. When I’d finished the novel, it felt as though I was in quicksand and could not resurface – when an author has that kind of power over you, to mesmerise you, to trap you, to leave you yearning for more, that novel automatically becomes one of my top ten. 

Image: Joyce McCowan via Unsplash

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