The Little People are Watching You
“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.”
Murakami’s imaginative worlds — with preternaturally gifted girls, bewildered young men, misshapen men, magical creatures, violence, and passageways between various forms of reality — all set in a recognizable every-day mundaneness of contemporary Japan are the main element that attracts me to his work.
“1Q84” doesn’t disappoint. And the quote above does a great job of summing up the novelist’s approach to this novel and to writing in general — you have to go with wherever “reality” takes you. In “1Q84” that reality is a strange Japan in 1984, in which some characters can see two moons, and in which strange beings, called Little People, have such extraordinary powers that they help to power a religious cult, which rests at the heart of this really long novel.
The story is a love story between a young man who by day teaches math at a cram school but aspires to be a writer, and a young woman, whose day job is as a trainer at a gym but who is also a killer. The man’s involvement in ghostwriting a novel about the Little People — who turn out to be real and who want to stay secret — sets in motion a chain of events in which the pair are brought closer together, but also kept apart.
The plot also includes an unscrupulous editor, a wealthy dowager and her bodyguard, the cult leader and his minions, a mysterious teenage girl who writes (poorly) about the Little People, an NHK (Japanese national television) fee collector, a private detective with a misshapen head, plenty of cats, and so much more (even Big Brother gets a mention).
Though the novel can feel overlong (especially when Murakami over explains some characters’ motivations), it can also feel insufficient as some of the minor plotlines and main characters get dropped or the mysteries about some characters are left as mysteries.
Still, the novel is one wild ride.
A fun note: Those who know Japanese will note that the title is a pun. In Japanese, the year 1984 can be said as one-nine-eight-four or ichi-kyu-hachi-yon — that is, “nine” is pronounced “kyu” in Japanese, which sounds just like Q.