Haruki Murakami’s new novel 1Q84 has come out swinging. With an initial, combined print run of 680,000 copies, publisher Shinchosha believes the two volume book is on track to sell a million and “become a social phenomenon.” Released two days early (May 27th) in Tokyo and the Kansai region, the book has already sold over 100,000 copies, and the Yomiuri Shimbun reports it has set a new sales record for Amazon Japan.
What’s the book about? Murakami’s publisher Shinchosha’s website compares it to Orwell’s masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four, stating “Where Orwell published a novel about the future, Murakami approaches the year from the opposite direction, creating an alternate past.” Apparently, that’s where the similarities end, however. The book follows the stories of two characters, one a writer and the other a young PE instructor who become involved with a mysterious cult. As the story unfolds, they create an alternate universe, “a mysterious past, different than the one we know,” which the author character refers to as 1Q84. So what about that mysterious Q? It stands for the English word “question mark.” Apparently the explanation comes on page 202: “1Q84 – that’s what I’ll call this new world. Q is the Q from ‘question mark.’ That which creates a question” (translation by Daniel Morales at howtojaponese.com, who is reporting on both his reading experience and his excellent taste in beer). As in, what the hell is this book about?
Early reviews (i.e. Amazon.co.jp) have been mixed, with some rhapsodizing over its “dream-like” qualities and others deriding it as “standard” Murakami fare. A few reviewers, however, have decided to hold their judgment until (drum roll) the rest of the book is released. They theorize that we can expect at least one and maybe even two more volumes. Their speculation is backed up by a number of compelling clues:
1. Murakami is said to have referred to this as his longest novel, yet at its current length, it is 127 pages shorter than the Japanese version of the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’s astounding 1,182 pages (which makes you realize how much must have been cut in the US translation.)
2. Apparently the second volume ends on a pseudo-cliffhanger.
3. The book’s two volumes are labeled “One” and “Two,” contrary to the Japanese convention of referring to the first volume of a two volume set as “up” and the second “down.” This follows the same pattern as the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which was released in three volumes in Japan.
Of course, this may just be wishful thinking. There has been no official confirmation of further volumes. We’ll let you know if anything interesting turns up.