07 April 2012

It was a bloody paper moon

1Q84 by Murakami Haruki, trans. Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel (Knopf, 2011)

Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else.
Nineteen Eighty-Four

Murakami Haruki's extra-long 1Q84 was full of narrative strategies that went against the grain of conventional storytelling. It represented a hardening of his hyper-realistic style and its ambitiousness was patterned after that of George Orwell's dystopia, with the Little People in the novel imagined to have the same iconic stature as Big Brother. This well-intentioned novel, however, was bogged down by its own paper weight.

The story was simple, if a bit long drawn out. It was 1984 when Aomame, a sports fitness trainer and physical therapist, suddenly found herself in a 'strange' new reality where policemen wore a new style of uniform and sported a new weapon. There was more to Aomame than meets the eye. She was also a hired killer for the dowager, an old wealthy woman who targeted powerful men who beat women. Meanwhile, Tengo, a cram school Maths teacher and aspiring novelist, was telling his own reality in parallel alternate chapters. He was 'commissioned' by Komatsu, his editor, to act as ghostwriter of Air Chrysalis, a promising novel by a teenage girl named Fuka-Eri. The novel was entered in a writing competition and Komatsu wanted to polish its prose for it to eventually win. Behind the increasingly intertwining (love) story of Aomame and Tengo was the dark shadow of the religious Sakigake cult, the ultimate source of all the troubles and strangeness of their world.

As with previous works, Murakami built into his fictional system an aspect of the metafictional. As a key text defining the principles that govern the double moon world of '1Q84' (the name Aomame gave this new reality/world), Air Chrysalis could also be seen as a template for the novel 1Q84. It was at least instructive how Tengo approached the work he was rewriting. Even his definition of what constitutes literature was very telling: "If the work succeeds in gaining many people's approval and if they identify with it, then it becomes a literary work with objective value." Hence, for Tengo, and arguably for Murakami, "literary value" was contingent on mass appeal.

Part of the appeal of Murakami's novels was the 'friendly' nature of his novels and stories. They unfolded in strange worlds and yet they were very understandable and relatable, well grounded in reality. They had complexity but were made to appear simple. They were full of life's lessons. And Murakami was all too helpful to explain to the reader the mechanism of his story. It was narrative spoonfeeding, using the pages of the novel as venue for his fiction writing workshop. The narrative principle was given by Komatsu, Tengo's helpful editor.

"In my opinion, you haven't written enough about the two moons. I'd like you to give it more concrete detail. That's my only request."
"Your readers have seen the sky with one moon in it any number of times, right? But I doubt they've seen a sky with two moons in it side by side. When you introduce things that most readers have never seen before into a piece of fiction, you have to describe them with as much precision and in as much detail as possible."

And describe the moons Tengo did. By the novel's end, Tengo, and Murakami, not only described them very well but bashed them into the readers' head, over and over, until the reader's head bleeds. After reading, I looked outside the window and my mouth fell open. There were two moons hanging in the sky, this 2Q12 sky, one grey and one green.


  1. great post, still pondering/ prevaricating about my response to this book, it has come together a bit more with my Judging for the IFFP shadow jury,but have yet to decide whether to post on it, as there are better books on the list.

  2. I liked this more than most - not sure if you saw my, ahem, *extended* series of reviews.

    I got a little carried away...


  3. Gary, I suppose the fact that only the first two books were nominated in IFFP says a lot about its overall impression on the judges.

    Tony, I'm afraid I'm also about to be carried away. Your six-post series, which I'm reading again closely now, was very welcome.