Murakami’s Latest – 1Q84

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Original story at The Millions.

You probably didn’t even know that Haruki Murakami has a new book coming out today.  That’s because the hype has been largely suppressed, and also because it’s only coming out in Japanese.  In fact the only major leak came from Murakami himself when he spoke last October at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, where he described his new book, 1Q84, as a “real doorstop”.  He said, “It’s least twice the size of Kafka on the Shore,” which received applause from the bookish crowd.

In fact, if you go on Amazon.co.jp, and you read Japanese, you’ll see that the two volumes come out to a mind-boggling 1,055 page count.  Addressing this, Murakami said, “I apologize to any of you who are train commuters. It’s going to be heavy. My books are becoming more complicated because the world has become more complicated.”  Then he also said of Berkeley, “There’s something wrong with this place.”

So, yes, today 1Q84 came out, but don’t get your hopes up, because there isn’t even an English release date yet.  Just by looking at the title, you’d feel safe to assume that it’s a tribute to Orwell’s 1984.   The number 9 in Japanese is pronounced kyuu, like the letter q, which would seem to confirm the speculation about it being an homage to Orwell, but there’s also talk that it might be a play off of Chinese novelist Lu Xun’s novella The True Story of Ah Q.  Shozo Fujii, a well-known Tokyo University professor has argued that Lu Xun is one of Murakami’s main influences.  He asserts that the 1 stands for the pronoun I, so that it should read something like “I am Q”.  I’m not sure how he explains the 84, but suffice to say, there’s been a small amount of decryption banter already loose on the Japanese blogosphere.

I suspect that they hype has been slightly dampened because Murakami’s last run of books, Kafka on the Shore, After Dark, and the dreadful tranquilizer known as What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, were all so over-hyped, with details of the plot for Kafka being leaked prematurely, that they could have never lived up to readers’ expectations.

In fact, Murakami seems to have hit an artistic slump in recent years, yet I always have the hope that he’ll revive some of the magic of his earlier works. I suppose it’s entirely unfair to expect such a prolific author to always produce exactly what you want from them.  Sure, Kafka on the Shore diverged into ridiculous, unsalvageable tangents, but shouldn’t an author be allowed to follow such dead-end roads once in a while?  While his non-fiction book about running might be the absolute worst book I’ve ever read, in a way, it makes him even more lovable than before.

The thing is I’m a die-hard Murakami fan, and so are millions of other readers.  In fact, it’s kind of endearing that before 1Q84 has even been released, Japanese readers have posted five star reviews of the unseen book, which Amazon has had to take down.

I’m going to speculate that 1Q84 will be great, partly because I need it to be, and partly because it supposedly extends some of the WWII themes that made the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle so astounding.  I think Murakami is at his best when he’s able to narrate the particular psychology of the Japanese.  He takes the weight of their history, particularly their role in WWII, and spins that out through these suspiciously empty narrators.

Even though my hopes are slightly dashed by his latest efforts, I’m still completely loyal.  It’s like when you fall in love with someone, and then you see a painting they did, and it’s the worst painitng you’ve ever seen.  What do you do?  Only an asshole would stop loving them.  So here I am, Murakami, waiting, hoping, loving; and even if your labor of love 1Q84 fails, I would never, ever use it as a doorstop.


Anisse Gross is a writer, editor, artist and question asker living in San Francisco. Her work has been featured in The New Yorker, The Believer, Lucky Peach, Buzzfeed, Brooklyn Quarterly, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She openly welcomes correspondence, friendship, surprises and paid work. More from this author →