On Murakami's 1Q84 part 2

By | on September 16, 2011 | 2 Comments

DH: What 1Q84 is ultimately about is what you will be holding in your hands as you read it. It’s a celebration of the craft of storytelling. Murakami provides an apology for the writer in 1Q84, a defense of what he’s done. Isn’t it enough that the writer totally engages the reader, involves him in a compelling narrative? Does the novelist have to explain everything?

I mentioned the elaborate structure of 1Q84 in our first discussion. Here’s more: Inserted in the margins of the text of each page are the title,1Q84,and the page number. But on the opposite facing page the book title and the page number are presented inverted as if reflected in a mirror.

The text seems to include every possible variation. On some pages the title and page number are always inverted together or they aren’t. But on other pages either the title of the page number are inverted but not on the same page.

Murakami puts Sonny and Cher in Noah’s Ark. He has little people crawling out of character’s heads like in

some whacked-out David Lynch film. The text is saturated with old movies. He even mentions The Thomas Crown Affair, one of JR’s favorites. The plotting style reminds me of Japanese Anime. If you’ve seen any of that classic stuff you know that no plot variation will go unexplored.

There are so many narrative pleasures, like the story of the City of Cats. It gives me the feeling you get from Hindu mythology where there are so many gods and so many stories about them.

I wanted to say more about Tengo and Aomame but I’ve said enough for one round. What appeals to you about those characters, JC? Or do you prefer Fuka-Eri? (Ha!) You did a great job of summarizing who they were in our first discussion.

JC: Not only are there constant variations in the typography of the title and page number, but the numbers rise and fall with every page turn. when the left page is at it’s peak, the right is at it’s trough, and they move opposite each other like a set of scales – measuring what?

What I’ve been loving about the story, that you haven’t mentioned is the parallel narratives. We’re getting similar stories about characters in similar situations with key differentiation such that you are left wondering if these are different characters, the same characters from a different point of view, or indeed fictional creations of Tengo. Murakami is keeping the reader guessing as to what that aforementioned one reality is.

Tengo’s funny. For such a sharp guy, he’s pretty slow on the uptake. He’s one of the driving forces of this otherworldly change that’s going on around him and he’s oblivious. He was a rising star in mathematics and judo, and his eventual failures led him to a lifestyle of writing and a complacency of personal situations. He’s spent a decade waiting for things to happen to him, and now that they have, he’s going to be forced to act.

Aomame is in many ways the opposite – more of the actor than the acted-upon. She is a practical, level-headed woman who happens to be an efficient and skilled serial murderer. She is also, contrary to Tengo, acutely aware of the minor (and major) changes the spell the differences between 1984 and what she dubs “1Q84” – the moons, the police uniforms, violent events that she ought to have remembered.

Fuka-Eri – she’s great!. Like a psycho-Cassandra, truth-telling and cryptic, she’s the center of everything, yet seemingly immune to it all.

DH: I didn’t notice the pages numbers rising and falling! I loved the alternating chapters on Tengo and Aomame. There’s a very slow modulation from their independent plot lines to the growing realization that they were meant for each other in some sense. This nuanced relationship shifts almost imperceptibly over 900 pages. It’s an amazing piece of writing discipline. It’s like Leonardo drawing a perfect circle.

At first, my feeling was that the Tengo/Aomame realtionship was phony, purely synthetic, a high concept thing meant to impress on an intellectual level but false to how people are.

But when I considered the characters of Tengo and Aomame more deeply, I realized that I had underestimated the humanity that Murakami had built into them. What moved me most about the sometime diffident Tengo was his caring relationship to his dying, dispirited father. The patient, day-by-day attentiveness to that cryptic and silent lost man who may or may not be Tengo’s biological father, the worked-to-the-bone retired TV fee collector, whose is a keeper of family secrets. And whether he was truly Tengo’s father or not, Tengo cared for him as if he were. That’s awesome, Tengo!

Aomame is a temperamental opposite in many ways. A true loner where Tengo is usually popular. What Tengo is willing to strive for earnestly usually comes to him. His problem is in being earnest. I loved how Murakami said that when Tengo was growing up he realized with surprise that girls were easily attracted to him. And how he didn’t understand his appeal but quickly adapted to enjoy it. That little anecdote displays Tengo at once as both modest and a man of considerable resources. It nails him. That’s our Tengo.

Everything seems to come hard to Aomame. Like most loners, she has had a couple of intense friendships. It’s odd that both these close friendships involved the straight woman’s equivalent of some exploratory lesbian sex. It’s like Aomame was so desperate for the closeness that she allowed these erotic experiments to take place. I loved it that she would double-date with her more outgoing girlfriend whose instinctive warmth attracted the fellas that Aomame would have a harder time attracting on her own.

Fuka-Eri? I’m sorry JC, but I can’t go along with that nutcase. But I ended up loving the unscrupulous shamus, Ushikawa. And I have news for you, Murakami loves him too.

Or, at least, Murakami can be totally empathetic. For the good novelist has empathy for all their characters, even the evil ones. But I don’t think Ushikawa is evil, just emotionally awkward and physically grotesque. And I’d date Ushikawa over Fuka-Eri any day…if you insist on me saying something utterly controversial.

JC: Oh, I love Ushikawa the best of all. I was just going to save him for the Part 3 discussion, since he takes such a vital role in the last third of the book. Murakami has thus far concentrated on Aomame and Tengo, alternating narratives, but out of nowhere adds the Ushikawa narrative to the mix. It’s a total sea change in the narration.

He’s a fabulous character: a lumpy, big-headed, ugly, seedy, Peter-Lorre-in-Casablanca sort of guy, with a face that only a Yakuza can love. He does the dirty work for the Sakigawa cult, among other shady clients. but knows enough to hold his cards close to his vest. He remembers when he might have had a normal life.

Murakami really takes his time the development of the adult characters, focusing on the abbreviated childhood development of the two for the emotional depth. It takes a while to really get the full picture. The dying father scenes gives a lot of fresh blood to Tengo’s character. In the same way, Aomame is revitalized by her interaction with Leader.

It’s hard to talk about this book without mentioning the Little People, the maza and dohta relationship and the more surreal aspects. I’m still trying to grasp what exactly is going on there, but I’m loving the slow crawl of the two stories to whatever conclusion comes in the next 200 or so pages.

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2 Responses to “On Murakami's 1Q84 part 2”

  1. September 16, 2011

    ejcrowe42 Reply

    Color me *insanely* jealous that you’ve had the chance to read this and I haven’t.  Guess I’ll have to wait for my finished copy to arrive on pub day!

    • September 16, 2011

      Dennis Haritou Reply

      It’s worth waiting for. But listen, the challenge is not priority of receipt but “taking in” the bulk of a 900 plus page novel and still being willing to read it. Most people just look at the length of it and give up immediately. 

      One friend asked me to warn him if it slacks off farther on. But I’ve got news for him. There’s not a dull page in the whole damn book.

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