Aaomame (whose name transliterates as “green peas”) is a physical trainer, who works at an upscale fitness club in Tokyo.
She climbs down the emergency exit of a busy expressway, along a long, cold, windy, cobweb-laden staircase, and finds herself in an altered landscape, whose defining feature is its two Moons: a regular, off-white one and a smaller, greenish one.
“1Q84” (pronounced: One Q Eighty Four), by Haruki Murakami, starts out by making readers think that they’ve flown to a world that calls to mind the fictional planet of Tatooine from the “Star Wars” saga.
There’s also a hint of the Many Worlds Interpretation (an idea in quantum mechanics that there are parallel universes) grafted into a literary context, for the events in it take place in the same city, yet, elsewhere, where the “time flow has been switched.”
Soon, though, the plot molts its science-fiction skin, changes tack, and takes on the pallor of a bizarre romance and a tepid suspense, with a darkly supernatural edge.
In her spare time, Aaomame is a hired gun. With a sharp needle, she kills men who abuse women, without a murderous mess. She is connected to Tengo Kanawa, a cram school teacher, an ex-math prodigy, who moonlights as a creative writer.
Their lives trundle along parallel tracks, never appearing to intersect, but they’re mysteriously intertwined.
One is kept hungrily guessing about their link, till it turns out that they’re bound at a level no more complicated than that of soppy love. As kids, the two had held hands in an elementary school classroom, and hadn’t since been able to forget each other.
Aaomame pines away for her childhood sweetheart by having bodice-ripping sexual orgies, choosing her male partners on the basis of the shape of their heads. On his part, Tengo finds an outlet in a once-weekly tryst with an older, married woman.
The chapters alternate between Tengo and Aaomame, devoting vast swathes to the minutiae of their daily routines, and their odd fixations, with a copious sprinkling of erotica thrown in.
Aaomame agonizes over the asymmetry of her small breasts. Tengo drifts into repeated reveries of his deceased mother being fondled by her younger lover.
Enter “Air Chrysalis,” the best-selling book that Tengo ghostwrites on behalf of the enigmatic and ethereally beautiful teen, Fuku-Eri.
An autobiographical work, it tells the life of a ten-year-old girl, as lived on the isolated compound of a religious cult. One night, the Little People trot out of the mouth of a dead goat and build a glowing, cocoon-like object out of thin air.
From then on, they invisibly keep watch over everything, eavesdropping on soliloquies. Who they are, what they seek, and where they peep out from, we’re never told.
Their only, if puzzling, contribution is the creation of strange beings that are neither the doppelgangers, nor the clones of the individuals they represent, but the “shadows” of their “hearts and minds.”
The concept lends itself to metaphysical speculation, but their role remains rather fuzzy.
If there’s a climax in these slow-paced 900-odd pages, then, it’d have be the self-willed assassination of a beefy, incestuous, pontiff at the hands of Aaomame. Once the misdeed is committed, we follow her into a long period of hiding.
Holed up in a condo, she eats, sleeps, works out, plows through Marcel Proust’s seven-volume “In Search Of Lost Times,” and most importantly, waits for a glimpse of Tengo, who doesn’t, however, make his appearance until the very end.
There’s much that goes on in 1Q84: a bi-sexual policewoman with a fetish for kinky sex is strangled; the soul of a comatose man goes knocking on peoples’ doors; an individual is “irretrievably lost;” a child is conceived immaculately.
Each of these subplots is edgy, outlandish, and thought-provoking, as stand-alone themes. But when kneaded together, they take away from the overall narrative its cohesiveness, imbuing it with an odd disconnectedness.
At several junctures, the story buckles under the weight of gaps, holes, and loose ends. Worse, some passages are leaden with overwriting.
The putative similarity to George Orwell’s “1984” extends to no farther than the numbers, “1,” “8,” and “4.” In “1Q84”—where “Q” stands for “question”—one journeys to a dimension, punctuated by many questions, over its temporality, its spatiality, its logic.
Where is 1Q84? It may be inferred that spatially, 1Q84, sits beneath 1984, for Aaomame enters it by climbing down. It’s a subterranean zone, inspired by the peril-fraught underworlds of Greek mythology.
On her way both into, and out of there, carnal thoughts about her deceased friends come to her mind involuntarily, pointing to the fact that she’s at the threshold of a world between the living and the dead.
Or, it isn’t a place, at all. It could be a metaphor for the string of trials and tribulations that Aaomame and Tengo have to undergo before they can reunite as long-lost lovers.
The novel may have been a disappointment, but it gave a fillip to my latent desire to own a Kindle.
While reading this 944-page tome, for the first time, I could see the value of an e-reader, or a tablet.
The Knopf publication is a single-volume, hardcover that weighs an uncomfortable 2.8 pounds that’s just too heavy to balance on the hands for a long stretch of time and too unwieldy to move around with.
Books of such daunting girth are best read on light devices.