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1Q84 (Books 1, 2 and 3) by Haruki Murakami January 15, 2012

Posted by ayasawada in Books.
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#1Q84 #Murakami #WIN

Long anticipated, the English translation of Murakami’s latest novel arrived this autumn to the expected fanfare and hype (not least from myself). Split into a slightly indulgent three volumes (presented in two books), the novel is typical Murakami, though probably not vintage.

That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable. The comforting, familiar tropes of a Murakami world always bring a certain warmth: elegant Japanese cities and quaint small towns; specific descriptions of music, drinks and food preparation; stoic protagonists with (relatively) simple lives shaken by events outside of their control. Not to mention the supernatural element behind it all that’s never fully explained.

<SPOILER WARNING>

There is a lot to like here, for sure. For one, IQ84 is a real page turner. Part of this is the aforementioned mystery-that-is-never-fully-explained, but it’s also the intertwining double narratives of Aomame and Tengo. This isn’t the first time Murakami’s used multiple narratives of course, and he’s used it to much better effect in the likes of Kafka on the Shore or Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. But it gets a bit more interesting when he introduces a third narrator in volume three, particularly because it’s someone you wouldn’t expect to be a narrator, and Ushikawa really is an atypical character for a Murakami.

For that reason, Ushikawa is one of the more interesting people in the story. Aomame and Tengo are okay –  two characters of equal standing, with equally intriguing narratives. They’re still typical Murakami characters though, even if the little details make them a little more distinctive: Tengo’s slightly chubby build, Aomame’s scowls and unusual line in freelance work. I’ve also never been fully convinced of Murakami’s ability to write from the female perspective (he just can’t help looking at things from the male gaze – particularly his slight obsession with perfectly-formed breasts). Ushikawa is completely different –  a disgusting person with a disgusting role, stirring both pity and revulsion. I can’t decide if he is a sadly underused character-cum-plot-device or meant as some deeper opposite to Aomame and Tengo’s more virtuous selves.

By the end of the story, I couldn’t help but feel a lack of catharsis from my time in IQ84. Sure, the story came to an end, but I’m not sure much was resolved. The biggest issue for me was not so much the Little People, but Tengo’s family. Was his father his real father? Who was his mother? Was the connection between he and Aomame completely coincidental/fateful? Or are they all machinations of the Little People, as seemed to be hinted with implications of virgin births, random air chrysalises and “voids that must be filled”?

Really, it’s less a mystery and more of an Alice in Wonderland-style adventure, two people acting as ciphers for the reader, slipping unknowingly down the rabbit hole and experiencing a whole bunch of weird stuff. I wondered on more than one occasion if Murakami was half poking fun – or at least playing with – the relationship between writer and reader (one of the aspects I enjoyed most about the novels). Through the early conversations between Tengo and Komatsu, he talks extensively about the writing and editing process. And IQ84 is partly the story of a story (Air Chrysalis) that takes on a life of itself, using the writer as a tool to enter the ‘real’ world. Is Murakami saying that we are giving his story, his world, life by reading it ourselves? That the Little People are manipulating all of us in this way (or that we are, also unknowingly, working against the Little People, as the writer, publisher and readers of Air Chrysalis did?)? That (bleugh) we are the authors of our own narratives? In which case, can someone explain to me what this was all about?

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