I have a complicated relationship with Murakami. I generally like what he’s trying to say (or what I perceive as such) a lot more than how he actually ends up saying it. Sometimes, the subject matter is so intriguing that I can gloss over his grossest quirks. Sometimes, I can’t and get annoyed halfway through. The second book of the 1Q84 trilogy fell in that second category. I remember slogging my way through the book, praying it would be over sometime soon. Understandably, I didn’t make the last book of the saga a priority. But as I hate leaving things unfinished, I knew there would come a time when I would pick it up. That time has arrived.
1Q84 #3 was a much more enjoyable read. I can say pretty confidently that taking a year long Murakami break helped a lot. Even his fans admit that he has a tendency to repeat himself, and reading the same novel ten times in a row isn’t exactly appealing to me. I took this read as an opportunity for a fresh start.
Yet soon enough came back the memories of what annoyed me so much in the preceding volume. Aomamé is the closest Murakami has gotten to writing a three-dimensional female character, but his usual hang-ups are still very much there. She has a strange fascination with other women’s breasts, including her dead friend’s. And she reminisces about her one lesbian experience way more often than the plot calls for (which is pretty much never). As for the women in Tengo’s part of the story, they aren’t given much this time around. If Fukaéri had been an essential character up until now, she doesn’t have much of a role here. Tengo also meets a few nurses while he’s caring for his father, but once again they’re here for weird semi-erotic scenes and to fill another breast description. Seriously, is anyone as obsessed with boobs as Murakami ? Is he ok ?
But, oh, if only my problem with Murakami’s characters lied only in his strange brand of sexism. When I was reading about the different characters’ routines (and believe me, you’ll read A LOT about that), I couldn’t help but be reminded of something else. Things suddenly clicked once Tengo left Tokyo to be near his comatose father and write his book. A few months ago, I had read about several writers’ routines as an attempt to get out of a rut. And it hit me: Tengo’s daily life was exactly the same as his author’s. On a lesser level, so is Aomame’s. In fact, it seems to be the way to distinguish between characters that are important to the author and those he couldn’t care less about. If a character does hours of exercise and reads every day, they’re important. If they eat more than a few vegetables and crackers each day, they’re not worth remembering for a long time.
It may seem irrelevant at first, but this routine thing is very important to Murakami’s writings. He writes in a very ‘conscience flow’ way, and gives much of his personality to each of his protagonists. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for a writer to put some of himself in his work. That’s what makes books unique, after all. But when all characters start feeling like the same person, when all their thoughts could come out of the same mind, it starts being a little more distracting. Same thing goes for even the descriptive parts of the book. Comparisons, comparisons, comparisons again. One minute someone’s brain is like frozen lettuce, the other someone behaves like a pea in a pod. Murakami’s mind works in mysterious ways, and I’m not quite sure I like the way it translates on paper.
And yet… Despite the obvious self-inserts, despite the sexism, despite the convoluted writing… It’s hard not to be fascinated by 1Q84. It builds such a peculiar world with such a specific mythology. It feels close enough to ours to be relatable, but works in its own way. At some point, I gave up on wanting explanations of any kind. I would never know what Little People were. I would never know if the anxiety inducing NHK controller was a ghost or something more sinister. I knew this wouldn’t be the kind of book that tries to explain what it says, and I was fine with that. In fact, it made the experience way more enjoyable. 1Q84 is definitely at its worst when Murakami’s real life and beliefs make their way into it (in a particularly unsubtle way). When it departs from reality and steps into the magical realm, it creates something special that I haven’t experienced in anything else, including Murakami’s other books. For now, I probably won’t go out of my way to read his other works, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy this one more than I expected. For a writer that is so consistently overdescriptive, it is ironic that the best of his work lies in the unsaid. I won’t be thinking much about the words as they were written on the paper in the future. But I can’t exclude the possibility of staring at the moon one night and thinking about what was in-between them.
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