Saturday, December 03, 2011

JLit Book Group Discussion: '1Q84' by Haruki Murakami

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Original title: 1Q84 (ichi-kyu-hachi-yon)
Book One & Two originally published in Japan in 2009, Book Three in 2010. English translation released in October 2011.
Book One & Two translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin; Book Three translated by Philip Gabriel
Longlisted for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize
The year is 1984. Aomame sits in a taxi on the expressway in Tokyo.
Her work is not the kind which can be discussed in public but she is in a hurry to carry out an assignment and, with the traffic at a stand-still, the driver proposes a solution. She agrees, but as a result of her actions starts to feel increasingly detached from the real world. She has been on a top-secret mission, and her next job will lead her to encounter the apparently superhuman founder of a religious cult.

Meanwhile, Tengo is leading a nondescript life but wishes to become a writer. He inadvertently becomes involved in a strange affair surrounding a literary prize to which a mysterious seventeen-year-old girl has submitted her remarkable first novel. It seems to be based on her own experiences and moves readers in unusual ways. Can her story really be true?

Both Aomame and Tengo notice that the world has grown strange; both realise that they are indispensable to each other. While their stories influence one another, at times by accident and at times intentionally, the two come closer and closer to intertwining.
After what seemed like a very long wait, the English translation of Haruki Murakami's latest novel was finally released at the end of October. I know many of you wouldn't want to wait long to read it, despite being a rather long book, so it easily filled the last slot on our JLit Book Group schedule for this year. If you have finished reading, please share your thoughts on the book below. And if you haven't quite finished, or are still waiting to read it, feel free to come back and discuss it with us once you have.

The discussion questions below are just a guide to start the conversation. If you have any other thoughts or questions about the book, don't hesitate to bring them up.
Warning: For anyone who hasn't yet read the book, the comments may contain spoilers so please proceed at your own risk!



DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

What did you think of 1Q84? His best one yet? Or disappointing?
There was a lot of buzz and hype leading up to the publication day. Do you think your reaction to the book was affected either positively, or negatively, by all the publicity?

How does 1Q84 compare to Murakami's other books? How was it similar, or different, to his other books that you've read?

Do you have any favourite quotes, or scenes, to share?

Who was your favourite character? Did you like the narrative alternating between Tengo and Aomame, and also including Ushikawa in Book Three? Did your feeling towards any of the characters change over the course of the novel?

When talking with Tengo about how well Air Chrysalis is selling, Komatsu says:
“But still, you couldn’t call this a commercial novel. It’s got no sex scenes, it’s not a tearjerker. Not even I imagined it would sell so spectacularly.” (p. 317)
Do you think a book must have sex and tears to be a best-seller?

On that note, 1Q84 did contain a fair amount of sex, and Murakami has been nominated for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award for 1Q84. Do you think the 'bad sex' nomination is justified?

What do you think the "Town of Cats represents? (click on the link to read an excerpt)
Have you ever been to a 'Town of Cats'?

And who exactly are the 'Little People'?

Were you satisfied with how the story ended?
In Japan, Books One & Two were originally published in 2009. Book Three followed about a year later. Would you have been satisfied if the story had stopped with Book Two?

What did you think of the translation? Especially as there were two translators. Book One & Two were translated by Jay Rubin, and Book Three by Philip Gabriel. Did you notice any difference between the two?

Well, I think that's enough to get us started. I'd really love to get a conversation going about the book so please do come and share your thoughts. And if you've posted about 1Q84, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Other thoughts:
Dolce Bellezza
Sam Still Reading - Books One & Two | Book Three
And the plot thickens...
Book Dilettante
Tony's Reading List - Book One | Book Two
Words and Peace
Experiments in Manga

1Q84 at: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | BookDepository.co.uk | BookDepository.com

Japanese Literature Book Group

I started the Japanese Literature Book Group to read and discuss Japanese literature with others, and by doing so to hopefully gain a deeper understanding of the literature and culture of Japan. I enjoyed having a little push to read more Japanese lit, and have thoroughly enjoyed reading these contemporary and classic Japanese novels with you. Please click on the button for information on all our past reads. The Japanese Literature Book Group will be on hiatus for the next few months while we pack, move, and get settled in to our new home across the ocean, but I hope you'll join me in reading some more Japanese Lit come spring 2012.



The small print: I purchased this book for my personal library. Links in this post to Amazon or The Book Depository contain my Associates or Affiliates ID respectively. Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission. For more information please visit my About Page.

12 comments:

  1. I liked how the book ended, even thought the seem to have ended another alternate world (the signpost is different from the one she remembered. Toward the end, I had dreaded that something really strange would happen to break the happy-ever-after that seemed to be coming. But it didn't happen. Whew! What a relief.

    If something had happened, it would have been a good lead into a 4th book!

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  2. Thank you so much for the link!
    My answers:
    What did you think of 1Q84?
    I loved it. Best one since Norwegian Wood for me. Probably due to the fact it was odd, but not as out there as The Wind-up Bird Chronicle for me.

    How does 1Q84 compare to Murakami's other books? How was it similar, or different, to his other books that you've read?
    Quite similar to Norwegian Wood and Sputnik Sweetheart in terms of boy/girl romance but the fantastic element really got me in.

    Do you have any favourite quotes, or scenes, to share?
    Anything in bold was entirely quotable. Love Fuka-Eri and her profound statements (without question marks). Shame she wasn't really in Book 3.

    Who was your favourite character? Did you like the narrative alternating between Tengo and Aomame, and also including Ushikawa in Book Three? Did your feeling towards any of the characters change over the course of the novel?
    Yes, enjoyed the alternating perspective but sometimes I'd skip ahead to continue the story. I felt sorry for Ushikawa in Book 3 once I'd learned his back story.

    When talking with Tengo about how well Air Chrysalis is selling, Komatsu says:
    “But still, you couldn’t call this a commercial novel. It’s got no sex scenes, it’s not a tearjerker. Not even I imagined it would sell so spectacularly.” (p. 317)
    Do you think a book must have sex and tears to be a best-seller?
    For some populations, yes, drama is a factor in a best seller. But a truly good book will always be read no matter what the content.

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  3. I'm afraid I'm one of the dissenters. I was disappointed by 1Q84, precisely because my expectations were so high. The New York Times published a review by Kathryn Schulz with which I agree wholeheartedly: "It’s tempting to write that out of five stars, I’d give this book two moons. In fact, though, I’d give it back what it gave me: an entire universe, all of it far out, some of it dazzling, whole swaths of it just empty space and dark matter."

    My favourite Murakami remains The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

    Do you think a book must have sex and tears to be a best-seller? No. A quick glance at Wikipedia's list of best-selling books will confirm that. Though it should also be added that the mass-market novels on that list do contain sex and angst: Valley of the Dolls, The Thornbirds, etc.

    Do you think the bad sex nomination is justified? Yes. Some of those scenes are truly cringe-worthy.

    What do you think the Town of Cats represents? Our own illusions. (I loved this short story.)

    Who exactly are the Little People? I have no idea. I've read reviews that compared them to the original Nineteen Eighty-Four's Big Brother.

    Would you have been satisfied if the story had stopped with Book Two? I would've been satisfied if the entire saga were the length of Book Two. I have no problems with long novels – as a matter of fact, I prefer them – but 1Q84 is unnecessarily obese.

    PS: To the blog owner, good luck with your move!

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  4. I've just started Book 2, so I haven't really looked at your post yet. However, I think I'll be finished by the end of this week, and I'll be posting weekly on each book (possibly with a summary post too).

    Oh, and I think my reviews may turn out to be a little... unusual ;)

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  5. Thanks so much for your fantastic questions. I'm sorry I don't have the time to answer here. some of them I answered in my own review: http://wordsandpeace.com/2011/11/15/80-review-1q84/
    As for "the Little people" it can be another connection with 1984/1Q84 and "big brother/little people. Another blogger had this idea, which I find very smart.

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  6. 1Q84 was actually the first work by Murakami that I've read. (My review can be found here.) I can't definitively say this since I haven't read any other of his books, but I get the feeling that 1Q84 probably isn't the place to start reading Murakami. There were parts of the 1Q84 that I absolutely loved while at the same time I found the novel to be immensely frustrating. And yes, I think the "bad sex" nomination is justified.

    My favorite character was actually Tamaru.

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  7. Oh! I also have a question for you all: How did you end up pronouncing the title in English? Personally, I ended up using the Japanese pronunciation, or just tried to avoid having to say the title in conversation. :)

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  8. Overall, I really enjoyed 1Q84. I agree with some of the comments that it was too long, I think a lot (especially in the third book) could have been cut out and it wouldn’t have been found lacking. (I do wonder though if I would have a different opinion of this if I were to have read it in three separate books instead of three books collocated into one)
    One thing I was really drawn to was the various characters’ interpretations of and experiences with reality. In the beginning Aomame realizes that reality and her existence was much more fluid and indefinable than logic would point to. I thought the alternating characters illustrated this differing realities really well, especially in the third book when Ushikawa had a narrative. Their timelines were progressing at different paces: for example, we read in Tengo’s narrative that he come back and Fuka Eri is gone because she was being watched – then Ushikawa’s narrative in that same time period occurs later in the book than you would expect if it was supposed to happen at the same “time.” I thought these disjointed experiences illustrated the idea that each character or person may have their own reality that is a little different than everyone else’s. Towards the end of the book Aomame decides that she can determine her own reality and can determine her own plot. In the same vein, the last few Tengo/Aomame narratives become slightly melded: it says they became one. Their narrative illustrates this because it mushes together in a way that sometimes you feel that you are experiencing Tengo’s point of view when you are in the narrative that is supposed to be Aomame’s. Their disjointed and separate realities, separate story lines become one storyline/reality/narrative.
    We didn’t hear much about what Tengo’s novel was about except that it was a continuation of the same ‘world’ depicted in Air Chrysalis. This may be far fetched, but I also wondered towards the end if Tengo’s novel was playing into the world of 1Q84.
    I liked the ending. I generally don’t expect the ending to make much sense when I read Murakami. Most of his books leave me with static in my brain and jumbled emotions. In a way, this makes 1Q84 seem like a culmination of his work: it went full circle with the intense plot/ magical realism / etc. that we expect and look for from him, but it came to a resting point at the end that felt really natural and didn’t leave me with the same kind of static that I generally feel.

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  9. Harvee - I wondered that too at the end when the signpost wasn't quite as she remembered it, whether they'd actually entered a third alternate world. Guess that could also lead to a Book Four. ;)

    samstillreading - You're welcome. :)
    It's interesting because I don't really care for Norwegian Wood either. Maybe I just prefer his more "out there" stories than these linear ones. LOL.

    I did like Fuka-Eri too, and wished we could've learned more about her.

    "But a truly good book will always be read no matter what the content." -- Beautifully said! :)

    Rurousha - I love that bit you quoted from the review! Sadly, I agree with you too. 1Q84 was much too long and repetitive, and yes, those cringe-worthy sex scenes.

    I usually say Hard-boiled Wonderland... is my favourite Murakami but I really need to re-read it as it's been several years. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is another favourite though, and the one that tends to stay with me the most.

    And thanks! :)

    Tony - I LOVE your reviews that you've posted so far of Book One and Book Two! And will add the links up here in a just a minute...

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  10. wordsandpeace.com - I'm glad you enjoyed 1Q84 so much. I really wanted to but I guess it just wasn't meant to be, for me anyway. I agree with you about the translation. I thought it read very smoothly and if you didn't know it was by two different translators, I don't think anyone would notice. I had heard they did compare notes to keep it consistent and it seems to have paid off.

    Ash - No, I don't think I would recommend this as a first Murakami. Most people recommend Norwegian Wood since it's probably his most "normal" but I say if you don't mind jumping right in, try The Wind-up Bird Chronicle or Kafka on the Shore.

    Even though overall I was disappointed in 1Q84, you're right that there were some parts that I did love. Including Tamaru, he was a great supporting character.

    As for how I pronounce the title, I usually refer to it as ichi-kyu-hachi-yon, but that is because when I speak of it out loud it's mostly to my husband. Otherwise I just type it. LOL. But I suppose if I were to refer to it in English I would say: one Q eight four.

    Crane - I enjoyed the alternating narratives too, and how the story would go back and forth in time a little depending on whose time line it was. And I really like your thoughts on how the narratives became like one near the end.

    "Most of his books leave me with static in my brain and jumbled emotions."
    LOL. I can relate to that. It's definitely true that 1Q84 had more of a complete ending than much of his other work. I can't decided yet if that's a good thing or not. When I first started reading Murakami I didn't like the lack of "closure" but now I quite like how the unclear endings keep me thinking about the stories and characters long after.

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  11. I've just read a very interesting review of 1Q84 at The Atlantic. Here it is, but be warned that it's a negative review:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/12/how-murakamis-1q84-became-2011s-biggest-literary-letdown/250119/

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  12. A couple of months late, but I finally finished all three books!

    What did you think of 1Q84?
    Sadly disappointing. Tedious for long sections and with some problematic themes.

    How does 1Q84 compare to Murakami's other books?
    I liked the surrealism, that was very familiar, but the whole was far too long. His style is usually much tighter. Has he had a female lead before? Because I didn't think he did a good job with Aomame.

    Do you have any favourite quotes, or scenes, to share?
    None, but I love the New York Times quote shared by Rurousha!

    Who was your favourite character?
    I was intrigued by Fuka-Eri, and there are a lot of questions about her left unanswered. Some people seem to be speculating that means that a book 4 is in the works. I would prefer she pops up in a short story one day. Murakami does that sometimes.

    Do you think the 'bad sex' nomination is justified?
    Absolutely, cringiest sex scenes I have read in a long long time.

    What do you think the Town of Cats represents?
    I quite liked this analogy, the idea of getting trapped somewhere. I thought Tengo's time in the seaside town was dragged out too long but that actually fits the Town of Cats idea.

    Were you satisfied with how the story ended?
    Yes, the ending actually redeemed the terribleness of book two for me. The main storyline was wrapped up but with just enough ambiguity for it not to be a sugary happy ending.

    I wrote a few more of my thoughts about 1Q84 in my review here: http://www.noseinabook.co.uk/?p=1640

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