One of the worst things I’ve done this semester is call Murakami the Japanese Paulo Coelho. It took me a long time to get around to finishing the last part of the trilogy. Partly because I had a lot of other things to finish reading and partly because I was afraid the trilogy would end up being disappointment.
The novel has mad ambition. It raises expectations and suspense like crazy. Halfway through the last part of the trilogy I worried that Murakami could not help but disappoint. The world and stakes keep intensifying at such a terrifying rate that you assume the only way a conclusion can be reached is through some conventional cop out ending. A few of my friends had read some short stories and novels by Murakami which they found rather disappointing which ruined my confidence in Murakami’s ability to tell a story. I wondered if I had been taken for a ride.
In 1Q84 Murakmai proves himself an excellent storyteller able to keep the reader hooked and create interesting characters. But I never felt confident enough to pass judgement until I got to the ending. There is so much going on that your just dying for a conclusive end to tie up everything- miracle births, tiny spirit men, miracle ejaculations, chapters where one of the main characters is a corpse, all the fantastic elements introduced in the previous novel mixed up in a world where death is very real, and very thing runs according to the girding rules of reality. The reality bit is very important, even works that revolve around “believable” settings tend to exaggerate and take things further than things would go in the real world. Here things are extremely realistic, something like buying a gun, disposing a body,surveillance aren’t things that are very easy to do. Even the pros need to extremely cautious and aren’t super efficient archetypes. There are two scenes where characters need to take taxis on a busy freeway. In any other book this would barely get a line.Here this gets stares, questions, this is a risky, unusual step, that has people commenting on their odd behavior and people citing regulations, very few books would bother to depict this.
You’d be surprised that this extreme painstaking realism that does not ever take any liberties exists in a world with two moons in the sky, air chrysalises,phantom cable fee collectors etc. There is also a very elaborate play going hidden behind the plot. This might be Murakami playing with the story telling, what is called real in stories,how much the characters know about the stories they are in etc in general. Even if he took away the fantastic element in the story and the world he creates, the story or the romantic plot would still be fantastic and never happen in the real world. But you can be sure that this is what we’d call believable in any other book. The fantastic elements in the book, they exist and they are extremely beautiful and very symbolic. I half a mind to go through the book reading only the fantasy bits.It’s easy to lose yourself and start day dreaming about the sky as described in the book. I’ve been looking at the moon every day since I began reading the books.
There isn’t much that the reader discovers about Japanese culture. You learn about Japanese law but not culture. I don’t know if this is due to translation, if Murakami writes for an international audience. But this is not a bad thing. I can’t come up with any thing else I’d call bad about the book. A few chapters in I forgot ever doubt I had, blazed through the remaining chapters and went out to look at the moon.
I’ve heard a lot of praise for Murakami and I know a lot of people who think he’s overrated. I can’t comment on his other works but the 1Q84 trilogy is simply amazing and well worth the read.
The last book ended with a cliff hanger that suggested the story was going to become more intense, and the many many questions that the first book raised would be answered. It did. Just not in the way you’d expect.
Murakami revisits what we already know while his characters try to understand the world they are in. The novel[within the novel], which was written in the first book, is elaborated on in a manner that makes you want go read the first book again and hit yourself for not seeing things more clearly the first time around. Yet again Murakami uses the novel that was written in the story to tell the reader where he/she should be looking. The readers like the characters do not receive any direct or complete answers. But make no mistake there is a lot of development.
The way this development works isn’t like the sort in most other stories. The development is extremely slow, minute and detailed. Because every single thing that happens in the story does something to alter the perception of the books characters, you never get bored or feel overwhelmed. The amount of detail and struggle, makes progression seem believable. It more philosophical progression than plot progression.
Few authors are able to repeat what has already been said over and over again and still make it interesting. Irrelevant and minute details in the characters individual stories grow in significance as they[ the characters] reflect on the changing world. Every time you look at a story again a few extra details you picked up as the other stories progressed change the meaning and relevance of everything you already knew. Anecdotes and idle chit-chit suddenly become incredibly important revelations that push the story in directions you would have never seen coming.
They also link up implied or unstated histories/stories as well, making the world far more and far more extraordinary. The fantastic difference ,between the real world and that of 1Q84, such as the two moons, air chrysalis etc blend in fantastically and do not actually make the story seem any less believable. In fact you might not care for them as much as for the love story that happens while the entire world around two people changes.
Everything in the first book is picked up, examined and elaborated on. These changes that encourage a sort of spiritual journey in both Tengo and Aomane, are the most interesting parts of the book. Their beliefs and motivations become as fantastic as the world around them. Perhaps this is why Murakami made the world around them so extraordinary, to try and show the reader how extraordinary certain beliefs can be even when compared to a sky with two moons.
The story moves slowly although it never seems to lose steam, Murakamis writing is again very essential in making it work. It isn’t easy to make you feel indifferent to a serial child rapist. However there are a few sentences that seem awkward at times, especially when talking about sex. And the idea that a person in japan would have croissants just sitting in their fridge doesn’t seem very believable to me. But I suppose croissants begin the most unbelievable thing in a story with two moons is a good thing.
Who would have though that a three century old woodcut of two octopi performing cunnilingus on a woman could inspire you to write a great story instead of just giggling like a 13 year old?
While looking at Japanese woodcuts one day, I found that image. A woodcut by Hokusai associated with the Kinoe No Komastu [young pines] from a three volume book of Shunga erotica published in 1814. It is the most famous shunga Hokusai ever produced. Wood-prints like this were popular during the Edo period when the merchant class [the lowest in Japanese pecking order] found themselves growing more wealth and able to afford woodcuts of stories,landscapes,erotica, and flora and fauna.
But the story by A.C Wise, which I found after more reading, that appeared in Shimmer magazine did something that seemed to give the silly woodcut far more meaning than anyone seemed to have intended.
The word slams into him, sudden certainty. He must follow his wife down; he must find her under the waves. They must find each other. As the sun passes the apex of the sky, the fisherman strips and describes a perfect arc into the blue.
The water slices him open, steals his breath. Cutting knife-clean through the dark, he swims down”
The story isn’t particularly long. A fisherman’s wife becomes enthralled with the ocean, while the small town where they have struggled to make a living, is slowly abandoned. They decide to stay[and possibly kill themselves]. This is used to symbolize love, belonging, loss and freedom.
Firstly the manner in which we know the wife- as something that belongs to the fisherman- is a deliberate attempt to make a statement on the condition of women in 18th century Japan. More interesting is the fact that it is the wife who leads the husband to the ocean. It is the wife and not the husband who drives the story. It is the wife who is able to stop their suffering.
The husband is in the role that women are usually cast in. He seems to exist to offer support to his wife, but the loyalty and dedication he shows makes him compelling in his own right. The ocean which radiates atmosphere ever time it is mentioned seems to gleam with possibilities. you wonder why they hadn’t thrown away everything else and dived in earlier.
The octopi in the image aren’t just octopi anymore. They’re just symbols of the oceans of a world below that seems to be growing more preferable as the wife and husband look at their fading lives and passion interrupted by the world they live in.
That is the best way I can describe the story, but the story loses much of its appeal when you strip it down to its plot. The gears that drive the story are the symbols lurking in ever corner. Wise takes women in the 17th century, the wide possibilities and freedom the ocean expresses, the changing social structure of Japan and mixes them up to make a statement on passion,love and freedom. With rich, enticing images and poetic descriptions The Dream of the Firshermans wife makes you wonder how something so beautiful could have been written based on a rather perverted woodcut.
I haven’t read much Japanese literature and what I have read are biographies and material related to history. The even fewer works of literature that I have read consist of small poems and short stories. But I’ve always been interested in reading Japanese novels; while I do know of and have read much manga and other works that were written by Japanese authors I would not call them novels.
The style of narration and the episodic made the difference quite distinct. Manga, Anime and Japanese history always make for interesting reads. Having evolved from an island shadowed by china -which was often the mightiest, wealthiest and most respected nation on earth-to a place which has been able to come close to over shadowing Chinese history with Samurai,Manga and a history of modernization combined with fierce protection and preservation of what was thought to be Japanese. So when I bought a thick,heavy and expensive copy of Murakamis 1Q84 without knowing much beyond the fact that Murakami was a famous author I was very eager to see what was in store.
The books cover with a grey tree and peeling moon and a smaller green moon next to [along with a puzzling message at the back] did much to add to my assumption that there would be some sort of great mystery to uncover. The first chapter seemed to confirmed my beliefs when it proved to be extremely descriptive and well written- while it did not actually tell you much about what you actually want to know.
Aomane and Tengo seemed to shoot the book in opposite directions like a rubber ball at a tennis match. The more you read the more you wondered how these two people who were so different in nature and lifestyle could be related at all.
Murakamis writing really carries the novel. I don’t think many other writers could keep you interested while offering you so few actual hints about the true direction or purpose of the story in between so many vividly described details of the world they inhabit.
I did not however find much beyond the names of characters or places without which the story might be uniquely Japanese. That isn’t a bad thing, but it did seem unusual and I wonder if this is due to some overzealous translator.
Describing the story feels almost criminal as I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone. The manner in which bizarre hints and encrypted speech reveal at a tantalizingly slow pace more and more of the story and the two characters makes you feels the revelations must be earned. You are in lockstep with the characters and are often as surprised and as baffled as they are by what you discover.
The novel and writing within the story is also incredibly important [and clever] as it allows Murakami to come in and tell you all about his writing and story telling while also telling you how to read the story. The beginning of the book might inspire you to ask “Whats really happening?”. As I near the end of the second book I’d say I still don’t know. I may know a lot more about the characters and their stories, I may have read through months of their lives but I don’t feeling any closer to answers. In fact both you and the characters have far more questions due to prior questions being answered. The way Murakami keeps you hooked on the long way to the end is simply a brilliant feat of story telling, one that is definitely worth reading.