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Posts Tagged ‘Haruki Murakami’

I’ve been wrestling with my feelings about Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 for like 6 weeks now.  The first 2 parts of the 3-book novel are everything I love about Murakami: a captivating metaphysical mystery set in a half-mundane, half-wonderful dream-like world, where time doesn’t flow so much as it sits still, like a backyard koi pond, until, say, a dwarf-sized catfish climbs out, shares a koan-like anecdote, and sends the story in an bizarre new direction.

In those first 2 books, the chapters alternate between 2 main characters, Aomame and Tengo, who come to realize that the world may have surreptitiously switched tracks into a new realm where the rules are slightly different, and perhaps far more sinister.  (For one thing, the world in 1Q84 has 2 moons, though not everyone seems to notice.)  It’s a great set-up, despite a pantload of clunkily-written sex scenes and way too much talk of the female characters’ breasts.  (Believe me, I appreciate breasts and all, but I imagine even Russ Meyer would read this book and be like, again with the breasts?!)  We’re also told that Aomame and Tengo, both 30 years old, are totally in love with each other and are certain they’re destined to be together, despite the fact that they haven’t seen each other since they were 10, and they weren’t even really friends then.  Sure, they feel bonded to each other because they both had parents who forced them to spend weekends going door-to-door doing things that would bore any 10 year-old kid.  And they both share a fond and vivid memory of a time they held hands for a moment.  But that’s about all they share.

Throughout the first 2 books I was patient and hopeful that we’d get a little something more about Tengo and Aomame’s alleged love, and why we should believe it exists and root for it to be consummated.  Because individually, they’re extremely well-drawn and sympathetic characters: Aomame’s a good-hearted physical therapist and part-time assassin of rapists, while Tengo’s a good-hearted aspiring novelist who tries to illuminate the world to some significant truths.  But no, even though I really cared for both characters, I only rooted for them to hook up to the extent that that’s what they wanted, and I wanted them to be happy.  I couldn’t shake the sense that they’d probably get together and be disappointed.

So yeah, book 3 of 1Q84 just went splat.  There’s a lot waiting in book 3, because Aomame and Tengo are both forced to hide, backed into corners by shadowy conspiratorial forces.  They wait so much that Aomame actually sets out to read all of Proust’s Remembrance Of Things Past to kill weeks’ worth of time.  The waiting itself didn’t bug me so much, because as usual, Murakami found numerous ways to infuse the waiting with plenty of stabbing tension.  Ultimately, the big problem is that the resolution of Aomame and Tengo’s love story felt massively anti-climactic, as did the fizzly resolution of the altered-track-universe storyline.

In the 6 weeks since I finished reading 1Q84, I thought about it from time to time, wondering if there was something I missed.  There had to be something that could make the disappointing third act feel more profound…like how love is stronger than fate, or something to that effect.  But I could never think of anything…

…until today, when I read that we’re just now noticing that the Earth has two moons.  So holy shit.  Now I don’t know what to think…

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Photograph: Sipa Press / Rex Features

I’m not even halfway through 1Q84, the latest novel by Haruki Murakami, but I think it’s already safe to say that it’s the Murakammiest Murakami novel to date.  Not only because at 900-plus pages (that’s 50% thicker than the wonderful Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), 1Q84 is the longest Murakami novel yet.  But also because it seems to contain every trademark of an author who utilizes an absurd amount of trademarks.

With that in mind, I’ve concocted The Haruki Murakami Drinking Game.  Kanpai!

  • If a character has a beer, drink.
  • If a character has liquor, drink a shot.
  • If a character listens to jazz, take a hit of weed.
  • If a character listens to classical music, savor a sip of wine.
  • If a character listens to late ’60s/early ’70s rock & roll, drink and take a hit of weed.
  • If a character senses that he or she exists in a parallel universe, drink and drop half a tab of acid.
  • If a significant female character disappears without warning, drink and take 2 Vicodins.
  • If a character expresses existential angst using an ambiguous metaphor, drink and practice transcendental meditation for 20 minutes.
  • If a character becomes involved with an unorthodox but highly efficient metaphysical organization, drink and tell a semi-employed 30 year-old Japanese fellow that you can refurbish his soul with these weird powers you discovered you had when you were 16.
  • If a semi-employed 30 year-old Japanese fellow becomes friendly with an eccentric teenage girl, drink and describe a young woman’s breasts in a gratuitous yet tasteful manner.
  • If an older character describes a traumatic World War II-era experience, drink and thank fate you didn’t live in Japan during World War II.

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I rarely re-read novels, mostly because there are so many novels I want to read and haven’t yet.  So far, my exceptions have been The Great Gatsby, Slaughterhouse-Five, and now The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.  When I first read it about 5 and 1/2 years ago, I thought it was one of my all-time favorites.  Yet part of me wondered how well it would hold up a second time.  It’s fascinatingly surreal, but it’s also relentlessly ambiguous, with lots of loose ends, as well as long stretches of mundanity (presumably to contrast and anchor the weird stuff).

Perhaps another reason why this book has stayed with me has to do with a somewhat bizarre coincidence that happened to me during my first reading back in 2005.  After I had read the first 6 chapters, I left my copy of the book in a taxi.  So I went to a bookstore to buy a new copy, and at the register, the clerk inserted a complimentary bookmark inside the book at some random page before handing it back to me.  When I opened the book a few minutes later, I saw that the bookmark had been placed exactly where I had left off, in between chapters 6 and 7.  Weird, right?

Today I’m just about halfway through my 2nd reading of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and I’m just as enthralled as I was the first time.  The funny parts still make me laugh, and the eerie parts still chill my hide, and the mundane parts never go on long enough to bore me.

Here’s a passage I just finished reading, which captures much of the essence of what I love about this novel:

“Here’s what I think, Mr. Wind-Up Bird,” said May Kasahara.  “Everybody’s born with some different thing at the core of their existence.  And that thing, whatever it is, becomes like a heat source that runs each person from the inside.  I have one too, of course.  Like everybody else.  But sometimes it gets out of hand.  It swells or shrinks inside me, and it shakes me up.  What I’d really like to do is find a way to communicate that feeling to another person.  But I can’t seem to do it.  They just don’t get it.  Of course, the problem could be that I’m not explaining it very well, but I think it’s because they’re not listening very well.  They pretend to be listening, but they’re not, really.  So I get worked up sometimes, and I do crazy things.”

“Crazy things?”

“Like, say, trapping you in the well, or, like, when I’m riding on the back of a motorcycle, putting my hands over the eyes of the guy who’s driving.”

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