book: Murakami’s 1Q84

I have stopped reading fiction for a long time–the only fiction I read is fan fiction on my OTP that I and my friends write. I have lost interest in fiction and find explanations of mundane reality more interesting.

I have all sorts of non-fiction books filling my book shelves from travel to arts (Jimmy Liao, Yoshimoto Nara) and yes, photobooks of Arashi, Jay Chou, Kimura Takuya, and even Joo Ji-hoon, who I was fascinated with during Goong. I mean, these photobooks do qualify as some sort of non-fiction even if they may try to sell a certain kind of fiction called image marketing in the field of entertainment. I also have biographies from Pope John Paul to Steve Jobs and Rob Lowe. Of course, because of my job, I also have books on journalism style, politics, society and economy. So in short, eclectic.

Having said that, anyone who likes a good read must surely make exceptions for Haruki Murakami, who the Guardian has described as one of the world’s greatest living novelists (this was on the back of the hardcover). Perhaps it is telling though that my favorite Murakami book is none of his fiction works, but his book on the 1995 Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack on the Tokyo Metro. The book is called Underground and also touches on the Japanese psyche, which as a sociologist, greatly interests me.

I can’t remember what was the last fiction I read but certainly, 1Q84 is the first in a long time. In fact, I have just finished reading it half an hour ago so my thought process is still influenced by Murakami’s lyrical, lilting, often hypnotizing narrative. That may explain why I am somewhat verbose in this post.

The book is 925 pages long. It is divided into three books and in Japan, were released separately. I like the Japanese versions:

So much has been said about 1Q84 as Murakami’s homage to George Orwell’s 1984, but frankly, it really isn’t. That doesn’t mean it’s not as fun nor absorbing because I don’t think I’d have ploughed through all 900++ pages.

The story is about Aomame, an assassin who specializes in killing men who abuse women and  Tengo, an aspiring fiction writer. The narrative swings between them like a pendulum chapter to chapter. Think of the two as Murakami’s version of star-crossed lovers, except that, at the risk of giving any spoilers, it does not really end tragically. In the course of their “love story”, they get entangled with Sakigake, a religious cult (that reminds me of Aum, which is in the headlines in Japan once more); a beautiful, dyslexic 17-year-old girl with a strange way of speaking and even a stranger name, Fuka-Eri; a rich old woman who is referred to as the Dowager; and the leader of the cult, referred to as, well, Leader.

Murakami has a way of creating characters and describing them in detail, their back story, their quirks, their physical appearance. There’s Ushikawa, the private investigator who people will remember because of his being “facially challenged”; the bodyguards nicknamed Buzzcut and Ponytail and my favorite, the well-built and professional bodyguard Tamaru who turns out to be gay. Tamaru is the one who introduces such greats like Proust, Chekhov, Tolstoy and Carl Jung into the narrative, and I like his dry sense of humor and wit. Oh, don’t forget the Little People. And the book called Air Chrysalis.

All the time I was reading the book, I couldn’t help wondering who would play  the characters particularly Aomame, Tengo and Fuka-Eri if they turned this into a movie. The alternative cover of the book in English has the face of a girl, I’m guessing Fuka-Eri (she looks too young to be Aomame).

Book 1 and Book 2 were fascinating reads for me especially when the characters were just being introduced and the mystery about Sakigake swirled on every page. I enjoyed tying together the loose threads that Murakami would leave hanging within the chapters for the reader to pick up.

It’s Book 3 that I had a problem with, and started skipping large chunks of paragraph I found repetitive until it turned into skimming through the pages. Despite the thick pages though, there were just a lot of loose ends that were left swinging in the air and obviously, Murakami had no intention whatsoever to explain them. Perhaps he felt they were not important.

That is why this New York Times review hits the nail on the head for me. My favorite part of the review:

“It used to be customary, in a book of this magnitude, to explain unanswered questions and tie up loose ends. Mr. Murakami clearly rejects such petty obligations, and he leaves many of the parallels in “1Q84” cryptic and dead-ended. He perceives, and we receive, and the reception isn’t all that clear. But 925 pages go by. And somehow, to quote Mr. Murakami as he quotes Sonny and Cher, for reasons that perhaps only he understands, the beat goes on.”

The Los Angeles Times was kinder on Murakami with its review.

Or maybe by the time I got to Book 3, my eyes were tired already and seriously lacking in sleep (so much for my 2012 resolution to be in bed by 10pm, thanks but no thanks to Murakami), and my head was bursting after Murakami had stretched my imaginative skills to the limit the entire week that I’ve been reading this.

As one line in the book says:

“If you don’t understand it without explanation, you won’t understand it with explanation.”

Maybe if I read back, I’d find the answers? I highly doubt it.

Perhaps Murakami is indeed the perceiver and we, the readers, are the receiver. Maza and dohta.

Wait, let me check if there are two moons in the sky: the normal yellow one, and a smaller, green one.

(My 2012 resolution to read one book per month is done for January. Yatta!)

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Copyright © 2012. theasianpopculturist. All rights reserved.

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