Just a couple of months ago, I announced a new rating system for the blog that ranges from no stars to three — but today I’m using four because 1Q84 is not just the best book of the year for me, but probably the best book I’ve read this decade. Since I’m leery of creating overblown expectations that would leave you disappointed after you read the book, I will start with a laundry list of problems with the book. Think of them as warnings:
- a gimmicky title (1Q84 stands for 1984, the year in which it takes place, with the Q replacing the 9 since the protagonists find themselves in a parallel universe)
- it’s 900 pages long! (weighing a hefty 1.3 kg)
- it’s translated (from the Japanese), which is not the best way to read any book
- the plot relies heavily on fantasy (the parallel universe mentioned above, with little aliens running around), and I don’t care for fantasy
- the story mixes a nefarious religious cult, child abuse, child abandonment, and a serial killer and could be a parody of a really bad newspaper
- there are copious references to English and French literature as well as classical music pieces, all of which can easily fall into precious self-consciousness
- it has a cliched ending (I don’t want to give it away, but let’s just say that 90% of love stories end that way)
And yet, I was taken, I was amazed by the story. Props to the translators (both of whose names appear on the front pages of the book, appropriately) for what must have been an enormously difficult enterprise, with myriads of cultural references and the shadowy parallel world to recreate. It’s always hard to evaluate the language of a book that’s translated, but the story in English is written in very simple language, mostly short, declarative sentences, but with it the author creates a world that’s so vivid that it leaves the reader breathless as the heroine sets off to kill the cult leader, or when the hero prepares to meet her. The characters are finely detailed, so much so that we do, absolutely, believe that the big bad child rapist can also be a wise and loving man. The literature and musical references are never obnoxious and always somehow perfectly relevant. And I did root for that ending, very much, and it was not mushy and ridiculous, moon gazing and all.
So when you have many hours available to read this monster, do it. You get a free biceps workout to boot!