MOST PEOPLE CAN'T, or at least don't, read a 925-page book in a couple of nights. In fact, if you happen to have any of the following: (i) a television, (ii) access to the Internet, (iii) one or more children, (iv) regular bathing habits, or (v) gainful employment in a job where your responsibilities do not include getting paid to read books, it would probably be difficult to finish a book this long in a week, or even two. Life just gets in the way. For argument's sake, let's assume it would be closer to a month, a month in which a typical person might take 30 showers, eat 90 meals, spend maybe 200 hours at work.
The point is that when you read a book as long as 1Q84, you don't just read it: you live with it for a while. If the book is good, you look forward to spending time alone with it. You sneak away from this or that, steal a few minutes here and there, find opportunities to get a few more pages in. Instead of life getting in the way of reading, the reading starts to get in the way of life. A very long book can even come to define a kind of personal era, albeit a short one, a piece of time that you can look back on and remember as having a particular texture: from the global (ups and downs in the stock market, political unrest) to the personal (what was going on at the office, the songs that were on the radio). Whatever happened during that month gets woven into the experience. And the converse may also happen: The book inserts itself into your consciousness. It becomes associated with, and even part of, what happened to you during that period of your life. To read a novel of this length is to be immersed, to move back and forth between the fictional world and the real one, and in so doing, to see the latter through a point of view invented in the former.
This kind of world-shifting is possible with Haruki Murakami's new novel (originally published in Japan in serial form as three books), which opens with Aomame, a young woman living in Tokyo, stuck in traffic, in a taxi, on the highway. The year is 1984, and Aomame is very late for work, which is a big deal, given that Aomame is no accountant or lawyer, but rather a contract killer specializing in the murder of men who abuse their wives. On the advice of the cab driver, Aomame decides that it would be a good idea to walk along the shoulder of the highway, and climb down an emergency stairway in order to get down into the subway station and to her assignment on time. Only, when Aomame emerges from the stairway, she picks up on subtle hints (the cut of a policeman's uniform is slightly different, the firearm he is carrying is a different model) that her shortcut may have been an exit in more ways than one. The world has shifted, or perhaps she has shifted between worlds. In the words of Aomame's cryptic cab driver, "things are not what they seem."
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Tokyo, a young man named Tengo, who works as a mathematics instructor at a cram-school by day and writes fiction by night, is being pitched an intriguing yet disturbing proposal by his editor, Komatsu. Komatsu wants Tengo to ghostwrite a novel. But not just any novel, a batshit crazy novel, a story written by a 17-year-old girl going by the name of Fuka-Eri that contains, among other things, tiny beings called Little People who crawl out of the mouth of a dead goat and, once out, weave a structure ...