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First Review of Murakami's 1Q84

The new Murakami book — 1Q84 — is now available in Japan, and this review at Neojaponisme is the first comprehensive take on the book that I’ve come across. Long review for a long book that sounds pretty intriguing (if not in need of a bit of editing):

1Q84 sprawls 1055 pages in the hardback version and chronicles a large portion of Japanese history in passing, but the main narrative concerns just a handful of characters over a six-month period in 1984. Murakami uses his favorite device to frame the novel – alternating storylines with separate protagonists that become more closely linked as the plot thickens. These protagonists are Aomame, a fitness and martial arts instructor in Tokyo who grew up in a fictional missionary group called the Shōninkai (証人会, literally “Association of Witnesses”), and Kawana Tengo, a prep school math instructor and aspiring writer who has never met his mother. [. . .]

First, something is rotten in Tokyo in 1984. Numerous intrigues are described as usankusai (胡散臭い): fishy, shady or suspicious. An editor conspires to ghost-write a novel and have it win the Akutagawa Prize, Japan’s most prestigious award for up and coming writers. A secret religious cult (loosely based on radical movements of the ’60s and religious cults like Aum Shinrikyo) plots some terrible evil in its Yamanashi Prefecture compound. A wealthy, landed woman wages a covert war on misogyny. The world undergoes abrupt, strange, and highly specific changes, and that trip to the dark side of the moon is more literal than you might expect.

These schemes draw in our protagonists like whirlpools, bringing in another key theme: hikareru (惹かれる) (to be drawn in) and related words make frequent appearances. Tengo is convinced to play ghost writer by his editor Komatsu, but he also admits to being equally drawn in by the book itself, which is titled “Kūki sanagi” 『空気さなぎ』(”The Air Chrysalis”) and written by the quiet 17-year-old storyteller Fukada Eriko. Aomame is recruited by the unnamed wealthy lady and drawn into her conspiracy. [. . .]

As Aomame and Tengo get closer and closer, their connection is revealed, and they seem to be fighting for similar objectives. The ending Murakami provides suggests that one of the characters might become “the egg” cracked on “the wall” of the system he referred to in his acceptance speech for the Jerusalem Prize earlier this year, while the other may battle on and try to recover the past. By no measure is the action complete within the 1055 pages of these two volumes; the way things are resolved points to the final line of Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady With the Little Dog,” a tale of two lovers who finally resolve to elope at the end of the story: “…it was clear to both of them that the end was still far, far off, and that the most complicated and difficult part was just beginning.” [. . .]

Parts of 1Q84 rival Murakami’s best writing. The tale of Tengo’s father, who tried his luck as a settler in Manchuria before returning to Japan to work as a collection man for NHK; Tengo’s married girlfriend’s ominous dream she relates to him in bed at the end of Book 1 (remarkably similar in style and feel to boku’s dream in “The Twins and the Sunken Continent”); and a story within the story about a town run completely by cats from a book that Tengo reads, are three notable examples. But overall, the book feels long, inconsistent, and occasionally repetitive. Over the course of 1,000 pages, characters and themes both float in and out of the narrative, many of them seemingly forgotten by the end of Book 2. Religious cults are discussed in depth in Book 1 only to be left out of Book 2. Tengo’s father is an important part of the whole book, but it is unclear how his past is connected to the rest of the book. Ebisuno-sensei, Fukaeri’s foster father, has most of his action offstage, and we never even meet Azami, Fukaeri’s foster sister. Most of the book is spent going over the past of the characters, so much so that plot discussion more extensive than that given above would start to reveal some of the only development in the novel’s present — plot that Murakami made no secret of trying to keep a secret in the run up to the publishing date.



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