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In "1Q84," award-winning Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami skips between alternate worlds, offering readers a moving love story in what is perhaps his most ambitious novel yet.

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In “1Q84” Murakami makes several direct statements about the nature and methods of fiction, which begin to explain why he chooses to layer worlds on top of each other (and also add to the sense that “1Q84” is intended as the definitive work of the author’s career).

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Before Aomame carries out the central killing of the book, she acquires a gun (for self-protection, not to commit the murder; her M.O. is more original than a bullet to the head). As she picks up the gun, Aomame thinks of Chekhov’s edict that a gun that appears in a story must be fired. However, the man selling her the weapon tells her not to feel beholden to old rules: “Chekhov was a great writer but not all novels have to follow his rules. Not all guns in stories have to be fired.”

In “1Q84,” a lot of guns go unfired which might frustrate some readers. The novel is full of suggestions that flare but don’t burn and characters, like Tengo’s older paramour, who disappear as if vanishing from a dream. Murakami seems to be saying that because life isn’t orderly and knowable, novels shouldn’t be, either.

But Murakami intends his fiction to do more than mirror the uncertainty of life; he wants it to suggest a way forward, too. In “1Q84” he speaks through Tengo, who, like Murakami, did not begin writing fiction until he was almost 30 when he entered (and, in Murakami’s case, won) an amateur fiction contest. As Tengo reflects on how as a child he used literature to escape, he may give the reader Murakami’s view of the purpose of fiction:

“The role of a story was, in the broadest terms, to transpose a problem into another form. Depending on the nature and the direction of the problem, a solution might be suggested in the narrative. Tengo would return to the real world with that suggestion in hand. It was like a piece of paper bearing the indecipherable text of a magic spell.”

So what is the problem “1Q84” seeks to transpose? It is loneliness, maybe – the loneliness Tengo and Aomame felt at the time a second moon appeared in the sky. The world of “1Q84” feels cold and forbidding but at the same time it provides an opportunity their other lives did not: to find each other again. And as Aomame tells her friend Ayumi, “If you can love someone with your whole heart, even one person, then there’s salvation in life.”

There may not be salvation in reading “1Q84,” but there is something quite powerful.   

Aomame and Tengo work their way towards each other and out of the year 1Q84 like divers straining for the surface. Finishing the book I felt as if I, too, were coming to the surface; days later the world still does not feel the way it used to.

Kevin Hartnett is a freelance writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He blogs about fatherhood and family life at

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