1Q84: Book Three by Haruki Murakami (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 1184 pp)

Born in 1949 in Japan, Haruki Murakami studied drama at Waseda University. He began writing fiction at the age of 29, inspired to write a novel while watching a baseball game. Murakami earned literary fame with his best-selling novel, Norwegian Wood. In the wake of its success, he earned writing fellowships at Princeton University and Tufts University. Murakami has won the Franz Kafka Prize, the Kiriyama Prize, the Yomiuri Prize, the Jerusalem Prize, and the International Catalunya Prize.

Check out reviews for Book One and Book Two.

Do We Need the Answers?

I recently confabulated with a friend about the hit television series, Lost. While I thoroughly enjoyed the entire scope of the show, my friend became increasingly frustrated as the seasons passed. For him, the larger and more complex the plot and setting became, the less interest he held in the show. I, on the other hand, appreciated the core narrative thrust of the series—the characters and their relationships. I knew I would never find answers but, to me, Lost wasn’t about answers.

I find the concluding book of 1Q84 to suffer from the same issues my friend presents in his Lost argument. The world Murakami has built over the course of 700 pages is grand, mysterious, and unexplainable. While I enjoyed Lost because of its characters, I never found a similar connection with Tengo and Aomame in 1Q84. As such, the unexplained mysteries moved to the front of my mind and I now comprehend my friend’s position regarding Lost.

The Sleuth

In Book Three of 1Q84, Murakami adds another central voice. Where previous books altered between the perspectives of Aomame and Tengo, Book Three adds an antagonist, Ushikawa.

A supporting character in the previous books, Ushikawa takes center stage when Sakigake hires him to hunt down Aomame in the wake of a mysterious death to their Leader.

Photo by Alastair McFarlane

An ugly man with an unusually large head—some have nicknamed him a bobblehead—Ushikawa stalks a cold lead. After the night Aomame spent time alone with The Leader, she has disappeared off the map.

Ushikawa scours her history hoping to find the smallest lead to this supposed assassin. After countless weeks on the trail, he might have found a connection—Tengo, the ghost writer who rocked Sakigake with the novel Air Chrysalis. Could Tengo and Aomame have been in cooperation? To find out, Ushikawa stakes out Tengo’s residence.

Shadowing Tengo through his residential Tokyo district, Ushikawa notices Tengo’s unusual attention to the moon. Finally, he, too, gazes at the celestial being.

“Ushikawa always saw himself as a realist, and he actually was. Metaphysical speculation wasn’t his thing. If something really existed, you had to accept it as a reality, whether or not it made sense or was logical. That was his basic way of thinking. Principles and logic didn’t give birth to reality. Reality came first, and the principles and logic followed. So, he decided, he would have to begin by accepting this reality: that there were two moons in the sky” (845).

In a moment, Ushikawa’s world turns upside down.

The Holed-Up Assassin

Meanwhile, Aomame shrouds herself within an apartment in the same Tokyo district. After meeting with The Leader, her life hangs in the balance. Secrecy, carefulness, and patience mean the difference between life and death for Aomame as Sakigake searches for her.

Aomame’s only defense resides in the gun on her dining table.

“She sat at the dining table and picked up the automatic pistol. She pulled back the slide, sending a bullet into the chamber, thumbed back the hammer, and stuck the muzzle in her mouth. Just a touch more pressure with her trigger finger and all this sadness would disappear. Just a touch more. One more centimeter. No, if I pull my finger just five millimeters toward me, I will shift over to a silent world where there are no more worries. The pain will only last an instant. And then there will be merciful nothingness” (641).

Despite not having relations with a man for an extended period of time, Aomame soon feels the telltale signs of pregnancy. A couple home pregnancy tests later, Aomame confirms the impossible—an immaculate conception.

In some inconceivable way, Aomame is convinced the child in her womb belongs to Tengo, her childhood classmate for whom she’s loved since her earliest years.

And there’s a clear reason I’m here. One reason alone: so I can meet Tengo again. If you look at it the other way around, that’s the only reason why this world is inside of me. Maybe it’s a paradox, like an image reflected to infinity in a pair of facing mirrors. I am a part of this world, and this world is a part of me” (855).

Despite her current need to remain invisible, Aomame desperately seeks a way to reconnect with Tengo.

An Aloof Writer 

Finally, Tengo remains oblivious to these underlying themes. Worried about the backlash from Air Chrysalis, Tengo travels to his father’s nursing home finding him in poor condition.

Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Even more, while visiting, Tengo encounters an extraordinary vision of an Air Chrysalis (a complex bubble made from strips of air) with Aomame in it. This discovers sparks the flame for his grade school crush and he, too, seeks to find Aomame. But the vision also alters Tengo. He no longer knows what is real.

“Was this actually real? Or had he once again boarded the wrong reality? He asked a passenger nearby and made sure this train was indeed head to Tateyama. It’s okay, don’t worry, he told himself. At Tateyama I can change to the express train to Tokyo” (723).

With Ushikawa, Aomame, and Tengo spiraling closer together, life, death, and the fate of the world hang in the balance.

When a Plot Needs to Provide Some Answers

1Q84 depicts the brilliance of Huraki Murakami’s imagination. A talented writer, 1Q84 is an entertaining read. But the grand scope of the novel begs for deeper explanation. We have a narrative with parallel universes, mysterious spiritual beings called the Little People, and magical floating globes made of air called an air chrysalis. The analytical side of my brain wants answers. Why did this crazy world exist? How did it happen? I loved Lost and didn’t mind not receiving answers because the point of the show wasn’t about the world surrounding the characters; the point was the characters.

Perhaps Murakami attempted to do the same with 1Q84. But I’m not drawn to these characters. Maybe it’s because I’m not an assassin or a ghost writer. However, Lost had its fair share of extreme characters and it wasn’t a problem.

In the end, I really enjoyed the buildup in Book One and Book Two but I wished Murakami could land the plane with Book Three. I appreciate reading 1Q84 but I wish it were better.

Book Three Verdict: 2 out of 5 stars

1Q84 Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Posted by: Donovan Richards
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