Monday, November 3, 2014

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

I'm not even going to try to summarize this one. It's about a writer and a fitness instructor who, through the publication of a weird novel, find their paths converging in unnatural ways. I'd borrow the official summary, but I think it gives too much away.

1Q84 is, unsurprisingly, pure Murakami. People are cooking, listening to classical music, having kinky sex, slipping into other dimensions, and looking at birds. Everyone is restrained and lovely and the world is hurtling by, careening out of control. You could really score some points in Murakami Bingo with this one.

You probably know by now that I can't say bad things about stories that include forbidden and possibly unrequited love, mysticism, or sad writers. This really has all the ingredients of my perfect novel. In fact, I was drawn to this story not because I'm generally into anything Murakami does, but because a strange series of synchronistic and tragic events (spurred onward by a possibly imagined cosmic connection) led me to it. I won't get into that though, Just know that I already felt like this was about me before I even knew the general plot, so I might be biased.

This novel is both elegant and unwieldy. It's immensely satisfying and antagonizing. I guess I just feel unsettled, which is exactly how I want to feel. As always, I adore Murakami for doing whatever the hell he wants: adding narrators halfway through the novel, combining them, playing with time and setting in ways that we were told we weren't supposed to, and pulling it all off with a cool collectedness.  

At almost 1200 pages, I do think the novel could have been shorter and retained the plot and general sense of wonder, but I honestly didn't mind or notice the length. Other readers have noted that Murakami tends to repeat himself, examining actions, scenes, and thoughts from multiple angles, leaving absolutely no room for misinterpretation. At times, especially when reading Aomame's chapters, I found this writing style monotonous and frustrating. I already know how Aomame is feeling - she just did or said something that showed us. Or, when strange characters or situations are encountered more than one time (the two moons, Fuka-Eri with her distant demeanor, Ushikawa's weird round head), we have the same description pounded into us again and again, often with the same recycled imagery - yes, I get it, I sigh, this stuff is weird. Stop telling me. But after a few
hundred pages, I began to fall into a natural rhythm while reading - it was actually soothing to be reminded of the weird hue of the second moon, of Tengo's father's sunken eyes. It was like stumbling upon a familiar friend in this giant, imposing world. I was continually reminded of the advice Tengo's editor offers him while he rewrites Air Chrysalis:

When you introduce things that most readers have never seen before into a piece of fiction, you have to describe them with as much precision and in as much detail as possible. What you can eliminate from fiction is the description of things that most readers have seen.

With that suggestion in mind, I began to recognize Tengo's simple and straightforward voice within Murakami's. Part of me would even go as far as to say that 1Q84 is the novel that Tengo is writing in the novel. He's writing 1Q84 in 1Q84 - I guess that doesn't make much sense when I put it that way, but I like this explanation because it's sad. I am telling myself that Tengo wrote it because Aomame was long gone, or was imagined, or had only existed briefly, there in the schoolroom, when they held hands for a silent moment. [I'm sure there are more analytic and thorough blogs out there that explore this idea. This doesn't seem like that far of a leap]. Either way, I do think there is a lot of Murakami in Tengo and Murakami used Tengo to carry the novel through to fruition. How better to describe a chaotic, twisting world than through the eyes of a man who reminds most of a country bumpkin? And Aomame, as we know, is supernaturally similar to Tengo, so she makes a nice, steady narrator as well. And then there's Ushikawa, who was a self-proclaimed fan of Tengo's linear and solid ways. They're all perfect, reliable narrators in a confusing, unreliable world. So, while I was intimidated and sometimes bored, I ultimately enjoyed the length and over-description. For every thing that Murakami explains 50,000 times, there are a hundred things he leaves completely dangling, yawning open, causing us to feel uneasy long after we're through. 

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