My first read from Japanese giant Haruki Murakami and ohmygod it did not disappoint. I had no idea what this novel was going to be (only that it was long), but it was a complex, masterfully spun tale of reality, enduring love and confusion. I don't want to reveal too much about this book, hard as that might be for one so lengthy, as it's an absolute joy to peer into the jumbled mess of plot and separate, order and connect the strands, the intricate plots that shoot off here and there, and grapple with the mysteries of the story.
The first two books are narrated by Aomame and Tengo, an exceptionally lithe gym instructor and a mathematician come author; though they briefly shared a moment (just a moment) of connection many years ago, the two have been strangers for the last 20 years. Over the course of the trilogy a net of circumstances closes in around the two characters, forcing them together towards their shared destiny in a world that they find themselves in by accident.
The first book begins with Aomame, done up in her finest and most profesh suit, scrambling down a rickety ladder away from stationary traffic on the express-way. Abandoning her unusually comfortable taxi, she enters a world that will become 1Q84, though does not realise at the time that she has crossed an invisible threshold. Elsewhere, very close by, Tengo is commissioned by his brash and pushy editor to re-work a very promising manuscript submitted for a début writer's prize, Written by a strikingly beautiful 17 year old school girl, Air Chrysalis is a bizarre fantasy story about a young girl visited by Little People in a world with two moons. Imaginative, but lacking polish and storytelling style, Tengo's involvement in the story marks the moment that his life's course changes track and he heads into 1Q84 too. This sets up the chain of narrative that has Tengo at one end, Aomame at the other, and in between a cultish religion, a mysterious 17 year old with an odd turn of phrase and shadowy past, otherworldly Lilliput-sized beings, assassinations, mysterious deaths, a rich Dowager, a promiscuous police officer, an exceptionally ugly private investigator and a soft-hearted but tough as nails bodyguard in between. It's an unpredictable sort of book.
Throughout the whole series there's a lurking sense of unreality, a mysterious otherness to everything that happens and every character. There's a possibility of danger at any moment, because when one is dealing with the inhabitants and customs of another world, you never really know what to expect. 1Q84 is a baffling but inescapably gripping story about the solid, tangible lines between fantasy and reality crumbling, about how the tiniest decision or event can take a person's life in an unknowable and sometimes irreversible direction. I loved the section about the Cat Town story that Tengo reads, a mysterious but real-looking place that you can get into but never leave that's ruled by cats, and about how the elderly people's hospital where he visits his dying father is his own personal Cat Town.
Towards the third book, a third narrator is added, Ushikawa, the ugly PI. Employed by the cult to detect their leader's killer, he is the force that causes our two protagonists' paths to cross. He is irritating, but he is essential, ugly but efficient. Towards the third book there is a lot of repetition, going over old ground, particularly in the third instalment, but it kind of gives the impression of a plug hole- the plot has circled and circled for a thousand pages, and as it nears its end the circles get faster and tighter, things are gone over and then covered again. Either that or the different translator gives the third part a slightly different tone. It's hard to tell.
Anyhow, long story (very long) short, I absolutely loved this, it's my ideal type of book; wonderful characters in Tengo and Aomami and Fuka-Eri, the 17 year old novelist, head scratching themes of parallel universes and out of body experiences, metaphysical madness, a magical hallucination feel, dilemmas about doing bad things to achieve good ends, revenge, beautiful prose and twisting, knotted narratives that tie up together at the end. Loved it. I'm not sure how I've never read Norwegian Wood, but it's definitely right up there on my Stuff to Do Soon list.