Tuesday, November 01, 2011


Phew! I plowed through the last third of 1Q84. It ends quite well - it doesn't wrap everything neatly up, of course (no Murakami novel has ever done so), but I think it will satisfy most readers hoping for some sort of resolution or closure. It's more akin to the closing of, say, "A Wild Sheep Chase" than to "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World."

For the most part, the third volume continues the things I loved about the first two volumes. The plot directly continues, we get more exploration into the characters' backgrounds, and a few mysteries are resolved. There are several differences as well, some of which must be structural changes from the original Japanese text, others might be from Murakami or from the translator. In particular, I think that the first part of the book used metric units (certain individuals of short stature are described as being about a meter tall), while the last part used imperial units (those same individuals are about a yard tall). Also, while I loved the language, the last part of the book did seem to introduce some tics that I wasn't as fond of.


Tengo in particular, and I think some other characters as well, come down with severe cases of echolalia - lots of "dialogs" are more like monologues with an echo, as someone will say something like "Sakigake is searching for a dohta," and Tengo will say, "Sakigake is searching for a dohta." It isn't actually annoying, but is a bit perplexing. It's a bit similar to his conversations with Fuka-Eri in the first volume, though I kind of preferred those, because in those cases he's kind of trying to translate her by turning her statements into questions (or, in the Japanese, adding a "ka" to the end of what she says). Here, I'm not too sure what purpose it serves, either in the story or stylistically. (I'm not saying that there is no purpose, so if anyone has thoughts about what the significance might be, please let me know!)

Other than those very minor complaints, though, I pretty much loved the ending. The biggest and most noticeable change is the introduction of another point of view: in addition to Tengo's and Aomame's perspectives, we now get Ushikawa's as well. This was a really nice way to open up the story a bit, still keeping the focus on the central relationship between the would-be lovers and adding some more perspective on their situation. I thought the choice of Ushikawa was an interesting one; personally, I would have loved to get inside the head of a character like Komatsu, who is already involved in the plot and has a lot of personality. Ushikawa has some great personality too, though. He's definitely an outsider, and I enjoyed the way Murakami treated him... he honors Ushikawa's skills, but makes sure that we don't develop too much sympathy for him. I was vaguely reminded of Flaubert's treatment of Charles - we're getting a full, three-dimensional character with some admirable qualities, but we're not meant to actually like him too much.

So, yeah... Ushikawa has been involved in the story for a while, and we got to know him pretty well through his association with Tengo, and now we can actually peer inside his head, into his sad, slight life. Again, he's kicked around by society, and I do like the way he can plow ahead and do a good, thorough job even with the social impediments caused by his massive ugliness. He occupies an interesting spot, working for the villains but under just as much threat from the villains as the heroes are.

The second volume ended very dramatically, with Tengo and Aomame both perched on the edge of huge developments: Aomame had discovered that she couldn't return to the real world and was a few millimeters from ending her life; Tengo had rediscovered his memory's version of Aomame, seemingly presented to him through the auspices of the Little People. Both of those developments are necessarily backed away from in this last book. Aomame just changes her mind, and gets on with her life; soon, she renews her focus on reuniting with Tengo. Tengo never again sees that air chrysalis with Aomame, though he patiently waits for it for a long time.

Several new elements were very successful. I thought that the NHK fee collector was probably the scariest part of the whole book, right up there with the Little People. Part of that may have to do with some social phobias of my own - I get uncomfortable when strangers come knocking at my door, and the kind of verbally abusive and judgmental ire that the NHK fee collector doles out are the stuff of my nightmares. I really like the way that Murakami spins out this scenario, across multiple doors, multiple visits, and a varying set of tactics that tightly orbit around a very mean core. I also like how Murakami dangles a very intriguing explanation before us - that Tengo's father, whose body is gripped by a coma, is sending forth his spirit to do the only thing he was ever any good at, abuse people to make them pay up. It's interesting how Tengo himself is never visited by the specter, but others close to him are. The collector doesn't seem to have any great supernatural insight - in particular, he doesn't know the actual names of the people staying in the apartments, just the names listed in the building. That makes me wonder if his spirit may actually be making rounds throughout the whole neighborhood, but can only be perceived by those who are aligned with Tengo's story... similarly to how only some people can perceive the two moons.


Speaking of which: we get an interesting twist on the whole moons/worlds question in this volume. I'm still not sure what the final situation is, but in the first part of the book, my working hypothesis was that Fuka-Eri initially created the new world by the introduction of the Little People/Story. Then, Tengo entered into that world, and became important to it, by embellishing the story and bringing it to an audience. Finally, Aomame was drawn into it because of her emotional connection with Tengo. In this book, though, it seems more like that sequence is inverted. The world still might have come into existence because of Fuka-Eri, but the novel seems to say that Aomame entered into that world by herself, by her own actions, when she walked down that stairway. This connects nicely with the introduction we get in that very first chapter, of course. Tengo, too, might have followed into the world after Aomame. She presumably was in the new world from the first chapter on; Tengo doesn't seem to have entered it until after he wrote the book. (It's possible that he was in earlier, but given that he invented/discovered the details of the two moons, I place his entrance several chapters in.) In this new reading, it seems like Tengo might have a one-way trip into the world, since he arrived by writing and can't un-write the book; however, Aomame has a two-way path, since she physically entered into it and can retrace her steps back out.

The whole thing is so romantic and lovely, isn't it? It's a little like the myth of Orpheus, but this time it's the woman who travels into a dangerous place, and brings back her beloved.

Minor (but very spoilery) thoughts...

Very creepy that we get more Little People! Now that we've seen two cases of them entering the world, we can draw some conclusions, I guess. It looks like (other than through air chrysalises) they can only enter through being who die, and whose bodies are not disposed of in a timely manner. The goat was left in the cave for days before they emerged; Ushikawa's body had suffered rigor mortis, and they wouldn't be able to cremate it for several more days. I love how this totally invented creepy mythology nicely reinforces our mores and morals about how to handle the dead.

I'm also curious about exactly what world the new Little People are in. Is a new world created each time they emerge? Or have they found a new gateway into 1Q84 after losing Leader and hope of Aomame's child? Or (creepiest of all) have they made it into our world? I'm reminded of the emphatic words of the taxi driver at the very beginning, who insists that there's only one reality. Most of the rest of the book seems to disagree with that; I and the characters spend much of our time thinking about the world of 1984, and the world of 1Q84, and the differences between them and how to return to 1984. But, what if the taxi driver was right? What if, when Aomame went down that staircase, she didn't CREATE a new world, but CHANGED the existing one? In that case, walking up the staircase doesn't transport Tengo and Aomame back to the "real" world, but instead changes the one world back to the way it was before. In that case, though, the Little People have found their way into our reality... into the only reality. Brrr.

I was really, really expecting for the same taxi-driver who dropped Aomame off to be the one that picked them up. I liked the way that Murakami handled this, though. It's a nice call-back to the beginning without being overly symmetrical. And, really, it's very appropriate for what the story has done. At this point, Tengo and Aomame's journey is over; they don't need any more special help from outsiders, they now have each other, and can spend the rest of their lives exploring one another and building a future together.


Yep... this was a very, very good book. In addition to all of its other qualities - the amazing language, funny dialog, fascinating plot, surreal imagery - I'm really struck by how well it works as a novel about novels. Not just in the superficial sense of having a book within a book, but it seems profoundly interested in the CREATive aspects of fiction, the way that we build worlds with our words. In the text of this book, it isn't just something to play around with, but a very real and meaningful way that we can touch one anothers' lives, alter our reality, change the course of history, discover our soulmates. In some ways, 1Q84 reads like a love-letter to writing, penned by the master of stories. It's an absolutely remarkable achievement.

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