Book Review: 1Q84

This year I rather bravely attempted a bookish challenge, consisting of reading many different genres.

For the Modern Fiction category I read 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.

I’m not going to enjoy writing this review. Because, to be clear from the get-go, I did not enjoy this book. The 1108 pages (ebook version) went by painfully slowly. It took me more than a month to finish.

And whereas when you enjoy a book it’s rather easy to write a review, one must substantiate not enjoying a book. As one who enjoys writing myself, I consider that common courtesy.

GoodReads blurb: A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 […] Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled. 

Problem #1: The blurb is misleading. You’re thinking some subtly hidden science fiction about a parallel universe, right? Well you’d be wrong. The concept in this novel is not a parallel existence at all, merely an altered state of mind.

Problem #2: This book is really long and while I take my hat off to anyone who can write such a long novel, I think there are limits to how descriptive one needs to be. Entire chapters in 1Q84 are of no value to the story line.

A book that annoyed me similarly was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson: the difference being that Larsson managed to tie up all the loose ends and finally the reader realises that not a single fact was written as a gap filler. In the end, everything makes sense. Not so with 1Q84. Useless facts, useless descriptions and useless literary mentions abound.

Problem #3: 1Q84 is said to be “A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s” and that is exactly the problem. This book attempts to squeeze so many genres into one that it rarely succeeds at any of them. Only at the very end of the novel is the romance genre successful. The philosophy is poorly developed, there are more schizoid traits than actual fantasy and the thrill of a mystery is not efficiently conveyed.

Much like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this book also touches on matters of abuse of females and the lack of attention from the powers that be. Again, however, this matter is only really a sub-plot to the non-existent plot of the novel. Which brings me to Problem #4,

Good Ideas Poorly Executed: 1Q84 had so many great themes to develop – fate and destiny, religion and the occult, family and sexuality… but it skims too briefly over them and focuses rather on setting elaborate scenes where nothing really happens.

I must concede that it may well be a translational issue. It is very possible that the translation from Japanese to English did an immense disservice to the novel. I don’t know. Murakami certainly has good ideas and a good handle on descriptive narration.

But at any rate, I found the plot full of holes and too slowly developed, and the characters were not memorable enough. What starts off well is simply not sustained for 1000 pages.


  1. Thanks for writing this. I was book shopping last weekend and almost picked up 1Q84 based on another blogger who really enjoyed it, but based on your review I suspect I wouldn’t like it much either. My attention span is too short these days for long descriptive paragraphs.

    1. I’m glad I could be of some assistance! Yeah, especially with the long hours you work – the book really becomes difficult to follow, and even more so when one doesn’t have much free time.

  2. Colin says:

    I’ve considered getting this book because the premise sounds intriguing. It might even be on my TBR–I’ll have to check. I might still get the book, but I will definitely take note of your cautions, because those are important considerations for me. I really don’t like gratuitous scenes. Every scene in the book should play a part in the story, whether it’s developing the plot, or helping us better understand the characters. If you’re going to have “fluff” scenes, I’d better already love the story to put up with them (sidebar: I thought HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX had a lot of “fluff” scenes in the first third of the book, but I put up with them because I enjoyed the previous four books and liked the world). The Goodreads blurb DOES sound like a really interesting novel. Shame the novel itself doesn’t live up to the write-up!

    Thanks for the review, Mariechen! 😀

    1. I agree 100%. If you do end up reading it, I would love to hear your thoughts on it.
      I felt the same about HP and the Order of the Phoenix actually… I think Rowling could take the risk because people loved the series already.

  3. Adam Tucker says:

    Barefoot, I really like the eccentricity of your posts, especially give your taste in books. Murakami is fascinating, have you read The Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World? If not, I recommend it! Glad to follow you here, and feel free to check out my efforts as well. Keep up the good work!

    1. Why thank you 🙂
      I’ve not read Murakami’s other works, but I’ll try to get my hands on them. Perhaps this one book just wasn’t for me.

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