How do you know what is real?

Does it matter?

I’ve been listening to Murakami’s 1q84 via Audible. It represents incredible value for money – 46 hours of listening for 1 credit. The draw back is that I regularly fall asleep before the end of a chapter so this review of the first book may well have glaring errors and omissions and I choose to blame that.

1984, Tokyo, Japan. A young woman is rushing to a meeting and is stuck in rush hour traffic. Her driver tells her of an alternative route but that she should be careful. The decisions means that things could change. Soon she discovers small differences to what she remembers. Is it just that she hasn’t been paying attention? Does anyone else see the same things she sees?

Elsewhere a young math teacher is approached by a publisher he knows to rewrite for publication a first novel. A compelling story with promise it is so badly written as to be unpublishable. After meeting the writer the teacher agrees and is slowly drawn into what he thinks is a literary fraud but is it actually just the surface of something far darker?

As is often the case with Murikami the story swaps point of view as we progress between the two main protagonists, Aomame and Tengo. We hear their narrative but, in many ways, they are not the main characters. Instead it is a teenage girl,

Fuka-Eri, and her novel “Air Chrysalis”, which is driving this story. Alternative reality, perception, magical thinking, mysticism and religion are all themes here. As we move to the end of the first book the seemingly disparate worlds of Aomame and Tengo draw closer and are seemingly connected both in reality and fantasy. Their connections are changing their existence in ways they couldn’t foresee.

What I like about the book so far: the slow, fantastical layering and the introduction of the religious and mystical influences. The writing about the Air Chrysalis and the slow interweaving of the worlds. The sparse description of most of the book. The match of the narrative voice on audible to the chapters (not really up to Murikami but when Audible does this well it does it really well).

What I don’t like: the weird sex-friendship subplot with Aomame. I can’t decide if it’s just really badly written or deliberately unpleasant. Thinking about it I wonder if it’s a deliberate call back to 1984.

I’ve 24 hours of listening left which should see me through a couple of flights and an afternoon or two by the pool. If you’ve not read Murikami before I’d probably not start here, it’s a long walk if you don’t like his style. Fans of coming-of-age novels might like to start with Norwegian Wood. Fans of magical realism should try Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World which I think is almost perfect and once scoring me a 0 in a round of TV’s Pointless.