1Q84: Book Two
There are certain challenges to being a Murakami Haruki fan. In my case, there are select things in this life that have a mainline to my brain, like chocolate or Michael Brecker CDs. Murakami’s books are on this list; for whatever reason, they bypass most of the logical bits of my consciousness and plug straight into something more primitive. I’ve always been hooked on his stories and probably always will be, with a complete and shameless lack of objectivity. As such, I feel compelled to either defend Murakami against The Literary Establishment or assure everyone that I’m not one of those Murakami fans. Worse, my Inner Hipster wants to claim that I liked Murakami before he was big, but I’m not sure that’s completely true.
Unfortunately, I have no street cred with literary types, and the sorts of Japanese critics who raise a ruckus about him irritate me as well. (I love Japan, but there are reasons why I don’t live there now, besides back yard ownership.) So while I’m not the type of person who retraces Aomame’s footsteps through Tokyo and cooks all the dishes from Murakami’s books, my peculiar relationship with these stories makes it very difficult to distance myself for analytical purposes.
This brings us to Book Two of 1Q84. I said in part one that Murakami is showing absolute command of his writing. He uses the first third of the book to set everything up, introduce most of the major characters, weave in many of his usual themes, and have a little fun. When Book Two opens however, he opens up his twin suitcases of Darkness and Intensity. All of the groundwork laid in Book One starts to wind itself together, drawing together in a striking and powerful climax. The book ends with as many questions as it begins, but I had a difficult time pulling myself away from things. It’s hard to describe exactly what my reading experience was like, but there is a magnetic pull about Leader that affects not just the characters, but sympathetic readers as well. Everything that happens during the rainstorm called up by the Little People is pretty much seared into my brain, for better and for worse.
I don’t know if I can say that Book Two of 1Q84 is Murakami’s best work, but I think it is Murakami-ness in its purest, distilled form. Everything readers expect from him is there: weird alternate realities, mysterious women, cults and conspiracies, herbivore protagonists, awkward and uncomfortable sex, dark journeys of unclear purpose, the works, with nary an ounce of fat. I can’t think of another 300 pages of Murakami that so encapsulates his style. This is, of course, like quicksand to me. I don’t even try anymore and just give myself up to it. I came up for air when Book Two ended and staggered off, probably leaving a bit of my soul behind.
There’s a bit of higher level literature fun going on as well. Chekhov makes several appearances in ways that still make me question the baseline reality in the story. (Our narrators are not exactly reliable and the author is using all sorts of illusions and trapdoors in the book.) Tamura, who I enjoy a great deal, specifically name checks Chekhov’s gun, though I would like to propose a corollary to this called Murakami’s Chekhovian Boobs. In this case, much like the gun that must be fired, any time someone’s boobs are mentioned we can expect them to be uncovered and put to use later. (Sidenote: is it just me, or is the introduction of a gun to the narrative much more chilling in Japan? I think an American would have assumed that everyone is packing heat, but in Japan, even a small handgun feels deeply sinister.) Murakami also carries on an occasional dialog about writing and criticism. Sometimes it feels like he is speaking to his critics, but others he seems to undercut everything going on before. It’s an entertaining sideshow.
Do I really need to get into Fuka-Eri? I don’t know if I want to. I really can’t tell if her chest is Murakami’s id running wild or a devious way to implicate a certain percentage of his readership. She’s either hypnotic or off-putting, and I don’t know what that says about me or anyone else. Maybe best to just let this one go. (As a character, I like her. I think everybody does. Her role in the story though is … uncomfortable.)
One of the most interesting questions in Book Two (not answered in Book Three, by the way) is: Who is the agent of creation here? There are, if not hints, then at least vague suggestions that Tengo is the one creating the world of 1Q84. Fuka-Eri starts the story, but Tengo fleshes it out and bring it to life. The second moon, for example, is mentioned in the original Air Chrysalis, but it is Tengo that describes it in detail. Of course, the second moon that Aomame sees is exactly as Tengo creates it in Air Chrysalis. There are other bits and pieces, including Chekhov and the protagonists’ shared background, that subtly imply connections. I don’t think this is the case, but I can’t shake a lingering suspicion that Tengo is writing the whole thing as a way to create his own happy end. That, or it’s just a really whacked out love story where a vengeful assassin and a cram school teacher bond over the destruction of a supernatural cult.
And that brings us to the end of Book Two. I have read that Murakami initially planned to end it there, which would have been utterly typical of him, but decided to press on. This is best addressed in part three however, so let’s talk more then.