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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Essay: Murakami's 1Q84 Book 3

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is one odd novel. It's one of those odd novels that is far too long but that, once the end is in sight, a reader may not want to end.

That's because in Book 3, Murakami pulls out all the stops and goes totally sentimental. The song quoted at the beginning of this massive novel is the old standard "Paper Moon" -- "but it wouldn't be make-believe/if you believed in me".                                                                                                                    

After three books and more than 900 pages, that's what it comes down to -- believing in another person. In their very existence. And in the existence of a world where two moons hang in the sky.

In Book 3, which takes place from October to December in an alternate world that the heroine Aomame has named 1Q84, a cult is after both her and our hero Tengo. They have not seen each other since they were 10 years old. They've lived separate lives for 20 years. But now, the coincidence of the cult -- with Tengo ghostwriting a bestseller that actually betrays its secrets and Aomame killing the cult leader (albeit with his blessing), an operative named Ushikawa is trying to find them both.

Ushikawa is an interesting character. Appearing first as oily and suspicious, it turns out he's got a backstory. The ugly little man once was a successful attorney with a wife and family. But he skirted past what isn't ethical and now operates more outside the law and society than within either. He discovers the old connection between Tengo and Aomame. When he gets too close, Aomame's ally takes care of the problem. The cult is flummoxed. They've lost the voice they listen to but change their minds about going after Aomame. They desparately want to talk to her. She's carrying a child.

Murakami leaves until the end whether the child is important to the cult or if any of the players -- cult members, Tengo, Ushikawa, even Aomame -- really know everything that's going on.

The resolution of the cult's problem, its pursuit of Aomame and whether she and Tengo are trapped in a world with two moons reminds me more of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell than anything else. Ushikawa's fate is like that of a once-sinister character in that book. What Aomame calls 1Q84 and Tengo calls The Town of Cats, based on a story he reads about a deserted town where the only inhabitants are cats at night, is the realm of fairies in European folklore. And not nice fairies. These are the ones who enjoy tormenting humans and who keep them at endless parties for years on end, always dancing.

Other notes in the overall novel do echo other Murakami works. The NHK collector who pounds on the door where Aomame is in hiding and Tengo's apartment when Fuki-Eri -- the teenager who wrote the original story about the Little People that Tengo rewrote -- may or may not be Tengo's father. He's lying in a coma in a coastal town that Tengo also likens to the Town of Cats. The only movement he makes, the reader learns after his death, is of his hand knocking against the bed, much as someone knocking at a door.

Both Tengo's mother and Aomame's friend suffer the same kind of death, recalling the across-time travel that took place in Kafka on the Shore. The whole other world and the air chrysalis that is a womb call to mind the alternate reality and deeply sleeping figure in After Dark.

All of these works by Murakami feature lonely, isolated people who still remain open to the idea of connecting with another human when one, no matter how seemingly unattainable, comes across their path. It's the belief that they might matter and the openness to connecting that make Murakami a sweet author. The last chapters are full-throttle sentimental and are as successful as his earlier passages about sex were not. The feeling is far more important than the plot. Aomame and her friend Tamaru, the dowager's right-hand man who is a deadly killer and intellectual, convey this when saying goodbye in a telephone call:

"I might end up never firing the pistol. Contrary to Chekhov's principle."
"That's fine, too," Tamaru said. "Nothing could be better than not firing it. We're drawing close to the end of the twentieth century. Things are different from back in Chekhov's time. No more horse-drawn carriages, no more women in corsets. Somehow the world survived the Nazis, the atomic bomb, and modern music. Even the way novels are composed has changed drastically. So it's nothing to worry about."

The contrast between the sweetness at the end and the realization in Book 3 that not all lives are so meaningful is realized by Ushikawa:

Everything he had done seemed pointless. He had used up all the cards he'd been dealt -- not that great a hand to begin with. He had taken that lousy hand and used it as best he could to make some clever bets. For a time things looked like they were going to work out but now he had run out of cards. The light at the table was switched off, and all the players had filed out of the room. ...
Where in the world did I come from? he asked himself in the dark. And where the hell am I going?

1Q84 apparently was conceived as two books rather than the three it ended up being. That would explain part of why the whole feel so drawn out. There is much repetition. There are plot holes all over the place, especially acknowledged ones, and disbelief is always is danger of not remaining suspended. But when one lover promises another "I'll never let go of your hand again," it doesn't matter. Because that kind of love may not be believable by everyone. But for those who do, there's nothing stronger.

© 2012 Lynne Perednia; originally published online at Daily Kos

1 comment:

  1. thorough analyse. You did have a good read on 1Q84