1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel (Doubleday), is a huge “doorstopper” novel (almost 1,000 pages in hardcover; the paperback edition is three volumes and nearly 1,200 pages), so I decided to read the first chapter before committing to it entirely. And I must admit, it immediately pulled me in.
1Q84 opens in the year 1984 with Aomame, a young Japanese woman, sitting in the back seat of “a hushed Toyota Crown Royal Saloon on the gridlocked elevated Metropolitan Expressway in Tokyo.” Nothing very dramatic happens: traffic is completely stalled. You get some digressive asides: about the music playing on the car radio (Janáček’s Sinfonietta); some background on Aomame (“She rarely read fiction, but history books could keep her occupied for hours”). Specific product names are scattered casually throughout the text in an attempt at authenticity. But things are almost too detailed, too precise, and when the driver looks in the mirror and tells Aomame, “Please remember: things are not what they seem,” it only adds to the feeling of unreality.
Chapter 1 ends with Aomame walking away from the cab through gridlocked traffic and descending an emergency stairway into the urban chaos of Tokyo below. I decided then that I would have to wait until I had more reading time; as with Alice and Wonderland, I just know that something interesting is going to happen to her down there. I hope to find out what it is this summer.