Heads Up: 1Q84

Murakami mania. But is the earth about to move?
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The Independent Culture

What are we talking about?

Haruki Murakami's epic three-part novel, published in Japan in 2009, gets its first English translation.

Elevator pitch

Murakami triples Orwell's doublethink.

Prime Movers

Murakami: once something of a cult favourite, now hugely popular both in his native Japan and the West. Some US bookshops are planning to stay open until midnight to cope with demand when the book lands.

The Stars

The books. Books one and two will be published together, with book three to follow. Billed by the publishers as "a mind-bending ode to Orwell's 1984", 1Q84 is apparently both a love story and a thriller, shifting between two characters and two different worlds.

The Early Buzz

1Q84 was wildly successful on publication in Japan, selling one million copies in just two months. As a result, it's hotly anticipated here, too. The Guardian reported that "his publishers took the unusual decision to ask two of his regular translators, Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel, to work simultaneously on the three books to speed up the production of an English version". An extract was published in The New Yorker, and in an accompanying Q&A Murakami said: "Whenever I write a novel, I have a strong sense that I am doing something I was unable to do before. I move up a step and discover something new inside me. I don't see this novel as a departure, but I do think it has been a major step in my career."

Insider Knowledge

The title is a pun on Orwell's 1984: in Japanese the letter "Q" is pronounced the same as the word for nine, "kyu".

It's great that...

A 1,000-page long literary trilogy should become a publishing phenomenon. In Japan, its success has rippled out to other works referenced within the book, with copies of 1984 and CD sales of Sinfonietta by Leos Janacek, which the novel's protagonists listen to, experiencing a sales boost.

It's a shame that...

It risks over-hype: the publisher's "1Q84 countdown" website, which declares "The world is about to change" above a second-by-second clock awaiting the publication of the third instalment, is possibly overdoing it.

Hit Potential

Sure to be a hit with the literati, though just how big the market for an unwieldy, translated work can be remains to be seen.

The Details

1Q84: Books 1 and 2 are published by Harvill Secker on 18 Oct; Book 3 is published 25 Oct. (murakamibooks.co.uk/1q84).

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