Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 is a novel that at first glance seems to not concern itself with whether its events are fact or fiction; and to be fair, the novel is written with magical fantasy elements included. But to lump 1Q84 into “fiction” or “nonfiction” would do it a disservice. It stands wholly on it’s own, and in my mind, a uniquely defies genre in its fantasy. Spoilers ahead!
Murakami saves the magic of the novel for a surprise twist that occurs at exactly the halfway point through this 800+ page novel. The first half of the book succeeds massively in realistic descriptions of the characters, their backgrounds, and their physical surroundings. For the first 400 pages, for the most part Murakami has written realistic fiction. It’s this dedication to real world Tokyo that lets the magic feel magical. In 1Q84 it is the fact that makes the fiction.
Maybe this is obvious, and the case for all types of magical realist literature. But personally, the introduction of magic into 1Q84 blew my fucking mind. Murakami does so well in writing his realistic fiction that when the magical realism kicks in, it doesn’t really feel like magic. You join the characters in feeling like reality itself has taken a total shift. In the novel the main characters find out that the world they live in, and the world everyone lives in, is actually being written by a select few powerful storytellers, who determine the thoughts motivations and actions of all the people around them. The most shocking part lies in the fact the characters we follow, that is, the characters the novel is focalized around, are not the storytellers. They are side characters, taking action based on the wills of these powerful other people, and feeling their motivations change as the story goes on. These characters are aware of their own transformations, and for the reader to watch a character they have grown close to over hundreds of pages suddenly start to lose their individuality to some other character in the story is pretty disconcerting. More than disconcerting- we’ve followed a thought pattern for chapters on chapters that all of a sudden is aware it’s changing due to the influence of another character in the story.
The relationship between fact and fiction in 1Q84 is symbiotic. The facts enhance the fiction, and the fiction enhances the facts. By grounding us in a very very real world, listing specific subway stations in Tokyo, giving the characters very real internal monologues with hopes and dreams and anxieties, and by avoiding tropes of all sorts, Murakami successfully convinces us this reality exists. Of course it does- it looks just like our own, doesn’t it? In this way 1Q84’s form reflects its content. The characters also believe their world to be real and free of magic, until they are proven wrong. The magic also makes the characters feel more factual, in that they react to the world changing around them in realistic and believable ways. By all measures, this is a real world that has suddenly been flipped upside down, on the reader and the main characters.