I’ve been reading Haruki Murakami’s surreal novels for years now, starting with his what is often considered his best novel, The Wind-up Bird ChroniclI’ve been reading Haruki Murakami’s surreal novels for years now, starting with his what is often considered his best novel, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. It took me almost as long, though, to feel that I fully appreciated what Murakami is doing; the non-ordinary events were often a little too peculiar, the emotional tenor a little too flat, the use of history a little too irrelevant. But then Murakami wrote an even more masterful novel, 1Q84.
A reply to Orwell’s infamous dystopia, 1984, 1Q84 tells the story of two characters who get sucked into an alternate version of the year 1984 in Tokyo – a world, as the novel puts it, with a question. Tengo is an aspiring novelist who ghostwrites a magical work of fiction written by a mysterious teenage girl, a work of fiction that increasingly becomes real. Aomame is a gym trainer who secretly avenges the deaths of abused women. Together they shake a religious cult to its foundations and seek each others’ love beneath the light of two moons.
Up through the first half of the novel, I was convinced that this is Murakami’s best work so far, doing many of the things I’d always longed for Murakami to do in his fiction. Most predominately are his use of the fantastic and his leading woman.
Murakami’s novels and their use of surreal elements often fall into what could be the genre of magical realism; even when strange, non-ordinary events occur, the characters accept them without question and the reader is offered little explanation as to what is going on, or why. In contrast, 1Q84 falls more firmly into the genre of the fantastic, where there is a hesitation toward non-ordinary events, as well as an attempt to rationalize them, for instance when Aomame begins to suspect that she’s no longer in the real world. This is most displayed in the various characters’ reactions to the second moon: it is unsettling, inexplicable, and demands an answer (though it still evades giving up its secrets). This use of the fantastic seems necessary for the story to work; how is the reader to believe that these characters have entered into another world if they don’t react in a realistic manner?
The other highly effective aspect of 1Q84, for me, was Aomame. I’ve often felt that Murakami’s novels often fail at presenting strong, complex female characters. When women do appear, they are most often doll-like sex objects for the male protagonists. Not so here. Aomame is tough, complicated, and a moral killer. In fact, it is possible to read her in light of the amazon archetype of warrior women that is fortunately creeping into the market these days. I like to think of this book as Murakami’s take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Or at least I wanted to think that up through the first half of the novel. Unlike many of Murakami’s works, the plots of which move through a murky haze of memory and uncertainty, the first half of 1Q84 barrels ahead with a controlled pace and action that draws the reader along every step of the way to the climax. Except the climax happens too soon.
The second half of the book revolves around the protagonists seeking each other and running from the cult, except they do this by hiding in their apartments, alone, uncertain how to act. While this might be fine (and realistic) if it was kept to a chapter or two, this goes on for a dozen or so solid chapters without the plot moving forward one inch until the last ten pages. Which means that, in a book over 900 pages long, there’s about 450 pages of waiting around while nothing much happens. Even more aggravating, all the tightly woven plot lines from which the first half of the novel is constructed – the mystery of the writer Fuka-Eri; the secret and history of the cult; the explanation of the Little People, the air chrysalises, and the two moons – all these elements dissipate as if they were an irrelevant ruse the whole time, constructed from tissue paper. But then again, as the novel suggests, the world of 1Q84 is only a paper moon, a fiction struggling to be real, lurching along as it unravels around the edges, and finally falling apart when the protagonists leave for some other reality....more
It's always interesting reading a book after watching (and being a big fan of) its movie version, especially in this case where the book's translationIt's always interesting reading a book after watching (and being a big fan of) its movie version, especially in this case where the book's translation was only finished after the movie came out. Perhaps the main difference in this story about dreams taking over reality through stolen psychotherapy devices is that, unlike in Satoshi Kon's anime, where the more surreal imagery leaps from the screen within the first ten minutes, Tsutsui takes more than half the book for the content of dreams to become manifest. In fact, a quarter of the book passes before the dream detective Paprika enters someone's dream at all. Despite the potential for this to seem really slow, and less interesting than the more frantically paced movie, Paprika the novel actually works best by holding off the potential for surreality to manifest itself, because that allows the author to create a familiar and logical real world first, which is necessary in order to make the weirder elements read as believable. Another interesting twist is that many of the inter-character plot elements held till the end of the movie are given at the novel's beginning, making the story less about finding out how the characters interact but seeing how these interactions change in the face of embodied subconscious impulses.
As someone who has spent a lot of time working with my own dreams in a narrative context, it was interesting seeing some of the ideas that Tsutsui uses for his dream detective's dream interpretation methods, such as having dream characters really represent other people from our memories, which I find a little too simplifying with how dreams actually seem to work, but was necessary for the novel's cohesion. One unique concept is that of "dreason," which opposed to the reason in dreams that allows us to control our subconscious imagery (the translator should have called this lucidity, but for some reason didn't), dreason is the awareness of where logic falls apart in dreams, which keeps us from accomplishing even the most simple task and eventually wakes us up through being startled by frustration, guilt, etc, an idea that I've come up against in my own dreamwork and have called thwartedness, though I think the term dreason captures the scope of it better, and Tsutsui does a good job of displaying this in action, letting dream scenes and characters morph into each other, startling the dreamers who aren't always quite aware when they are dreaming.
One of the deeper themes of the novel, and a necessary one in talking about dreams vs. reality, is unfortunately not introduced (either directly or indirectly) until near the end of the novel, and I would have liked to see be played out from the beginning, more as it is in the Kon's movie: that goodness and evil (or god and the devil in religious terms), are imaginal constructs that are not opposed to each other but are opposed to the banality of everyday life/ human waking existence, the idea being that such extreme aspects of psyche necessitate each other, and the wilder, surreal parts of life, whether desired or feared, are at odds with life as it is lived on a daily basis. Unfortunately this idea just seems tossed off or unfinished, as the setting of a cutting-edge psychiatric institute is not exactly everyday enough to see the range/ struggle between reality and the dreams. Similarly, there is no resolve: good triumphs over evil as if it was reality triumphing over the dreams, which is certainly a common ending, but it perhaps would have been more interesting, and more in line with some of the Jungian psychology that the book draws on, to have the characters find a balance, a place where both good and evil, dreams and the everyday, could coexist as equally real and important, since humans after all are the ones who created these ideas of psychic extremes in the first place and still must learn what to do with them through our imaginations.
Those critiques aside, this book is fantastic, mesmerizing, and full of so many novel ideas and writing techniques that it is a must read for anyone interested in dreams, science fiction, psychology, and plain human behavior....more
In this beautifully strange book Murakami tries to present a reality that is eventually broken open into an increasing irreality, and the narrator's sIn this beautifully strange book Murakami tries to present a reality that is eventually broken open into an increasing irreality, and the narrator's struggle to get back to the "real" life he once led. Along the way we are presented with a colorful cast of characters, intense and vivid sensory/ consciousness details, a stunning use of dream sequences and imagery, a series of intriguing stories within the main story, and synchronistic interconnections between all the events, details, and characters that left me quite curious to keep turning each page to see just where it was all leading.
While being rather brilliantly written in these terms, enough that I highly enjoyed it, I was left slightly unsatisfied at the end for several technical reasons. The reality which the narrator originally inhabits is never clearly fleshed out so it is difficult to tell how far from it he moves (most likely due to cultural assumptions). The intense use of details and consciousness sometimes seem overwritten and don't add to the flow of the story's already tenuous plot. And for a story that relies on the interconnectedness of events and small details, many of the characters and events seem to randomly vanish as if they were threads that the author either never figured out what to do with or just forgot about when another more exciting detail suggested itself. This last point really irked me because it seemed as if the story could never quite figure out whether randomness or interconnectedness was more important to the total effect, and consequently the total effect seemed much more haphazard then I imagine it was meant to be. Add on top of that passages that accidentally change tense and case, which I would like to blame on the translation rather than the writing style. On the whole I felt that I was only getting half of what was supposed to be on the page.
Nonetheless this was a really wonderful read and points to all sorts of interesting directions for the use of fractured narratives, alternative histories, and perceptual irrealities that harken to the best of magical realist and post-modern literatures. I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading more of Murakami's work in the future....more