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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Essay: Murakami's 1Q84 Book 2

Jung was writing about James Joyce's Ulysses, but his observation rings just as true for Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 when he wrote:

What is so staggering about 'Ulysses" is the fact that behind a thousand veils nothing lies hidden; that it turns neither toward the mind nor toward the world, but, as cold as the moon looking on from cosmic space, allows the dream of growth, being, and decay to pursue its course.

Two moons hang in the sky, and the reason for why that is so is revealed by Murakami in Book 2 of 1Q84. The second moon, which existed in a story told by a teenage girl who ran away from a cult, was brought to life by a cram school teacher who took that story at the behest of his editor and rewrote it into a bestselling piece of literature. The woman that this teacher, Tengo, has always loved finds herself looking at the two moons in the sky and remembering the boy she gave her heart to when they were both 10 years old.            

At the same time Aomame is looking at the two moons, coming to terms with her new-found realization that she has spent her life loving Tengo, he is looking at those same two moons with the new-found realization that he has always loved her. He imagines that the moon has given Aomame the best thing it can give a person -- "pure solitude and tranquility".

That there are two moons gazing impassively down at the separated pair plays directly into Murakami's theme of duality. It's seen throughout this middle section of 1Q84 with the various couplings of characters and reflected situations. In one of the many expository speeches in this section, Jung is referenced:

Where there is light, there must be shadow, and where there is shadow there must be light. There is no shadow without light and no light without shadow. Karl Jung said this about 'the Shadow' in one of his books: 'It is as evil as we are positive ... the more desperately we try to be good and wonderful and perfect, the more the Shadow develops a definite will to be black and evil and destructive ... The fact is that if one tries beyond one's capacity to be perfect, the Shadow descends to hell and becomes the devil. For it is just as sinful from the standpoint of nature and of truth to be above oneself as to be below oneself.

Aomame, begins this section accepting her final, and most difficult, assignment. She is a vigilante assassin whose benefactor, the dowager, wants her to kill a cult leader who has been raping prepubescent girls. His victims include a little girl who is sheltered at the dowager's safe house for abuse victims but who mysteriously disappears.

Yes, this is the same cult that the teenage storyteller, Fuka-Eri, escaped from, and her father is the same cult leader who has been raping the little girls. In what is the most difficult part of the novel to accept, the cult leader has a different story to tell. The sexual congress is how the Perceiver and Receiver in Murakami's created mythology see and hear the Little People who are the movers and shakers, the tricksters, in this novel. Fuka-Eri tells the story the same way and performs the same with Tengo after she goes into hiding following her story's publication.

This conceit is where Murakami's delicately woven tale threatens to unravel. Instead of taking this part of the story on face value and waiting to see what happens next, my reaction is to wonder why any man would think this kind of NC17-rated excuse of Star Trek-style fan fiction would fit into a complex structure of a three-book literary work. 

Although I don't think Murakami intended this to be the profane counterpart to the sweet tale of Tengo and Aomame, this is the only way I can make it fit. Because the crux of the tale is stated explicitly in this section:

If you can love someone with your whole heart, even one person, then there's salvation in life.

Aomame decides to carry through her mission because doing so, she is told, will keep Tengo safe. When she tries to go back the way she came when she entered 1Q84 (the alternate reality from the year 1984) the way is blocked.

Book 2 starts to pull together some of the threads that were introduced in the first book, especially the stories of Tengo and Aomame, the two moons and the Little People. How other parts of the whole narrative fit haven't quite coalesced, although they are becoming part of this main story. Most importantly, Tengo's distant father, wasting away and suffering from dementia, speaks to him cryptically about his mother. Tengo was raised by this man, who apparently isn't his father, after his mother left. 

And because this is Murakami, there are finally cats. In this case, they appear in a story Tengo reads while going to visit his father and later tells to the older man. It's a fable (which calls to mind Philippe Claudel's latest novel, The Investigation, with a seemingly abandoned village) in which a man on a train stops in a quiet town. No one is there. He stays until night falls, when hundreds of cats arrive and carry on as if they were human, doing routine things. He stays a second, then a third, night. The town is the place where the man "is meant to be lost".

This story seemingly inspires Tengo's father to tell him that he is nothing and that he has been filling a vacuum left by someone else. When he is gone, Tengo will fill that vacuum. Tengo has had a dream for years that he is a baby in his crib, watching his mother embraced by another man. Now, he is told that "the woman who gave birth to you is not anywhere anymore" and that she "joined her body with a vacuum". When one of the strange figures in Fuka-Eri's story, an air chrysalis, forms on the bed where his father has been in a coma, the stories are nearly joined together. But there is a third book to come.

There also is a cliffhanger to see resolved regarding Aomame's determination to save Tengo. Murakami leaves no doubt that belief in love and in the world are entwined. The cult leader Aomame was sent to kill tells her, while referencing the Paper Moon song:

If you don't believe in the world, and if there is no love in it, then everything is phony. No matter which world we are talking about, no matter what kind of world we are talking about ...

Meanwhile, Tengo ends Book 2 vowing:

I will find Aomame ... no matter what happens, no matter what kind of world it may be, no matter who she may be.

With this great a set-up, and still shaking my head over the offensive idea of sex with young girls as a way to transfer knowledge, Book 3 had better be transformative.

Copyright Lynne Perednia; originally published online at Daily Kos

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