Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Love story at the heart of Murakami's 1Q84

The world of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is not to be entered casually. I suppose I wouldn’t encourage anyone to blindly jump into one of his previous books either (except I can’t help recommending the dark brilliance of Norwegian Wood to anyone who asks). Murakami tends toward the dark or bizarre or the sad. 1Q84 brims with all of these and its intensities are sometime wearisome or upsetting. But what 1Q84 made me realize more than anything else is that Murakami’s novels are always love stories. The romances are hardly formulaic, but at the center of shifting worlds and convoluted self-discoveries the ultimate focus is strangely pure. The grand complexities of 1Q84 manage to emphasize this more than most.

Aomame, her name means green peas, is a determined, attractive, and somewhat frightening woman. Her audacity is evident from the first scene, in which she exits a taxi in the middle of a traffic jam on the elevated Metropolitan Expressway of Tokyo. She is in a rush to make her business appointment (she’s an assassin) and she effortlessly climbs down the emergency exit in her stockings and skirt suit. As she departs from the safe confines of the cab the driver offers ger strange advice: “Please remember: things are not what they seem.” Aomame’s descent allows her to keep her appointment, and takes her into a world with two moons, air chrysalises, and the Little People.

Tengo is the same age as Aomame and has the strange occupation of working as a professor of math and of being a writer. His entrance into the year 1Q84 isn’t marked by a dramatic change, but the course of his days do shift when his editor asks him to rewrite a short story submission the magazine has received. Air Chrysalis was written by a 17-year-old girl, Fuka-Eri, and the editor believes that with Tengo’s writing and Fuka-Eri’s youth and odd story, they will have a blockbuster success. Tengo agrees to ghostwrite the project, bringing to life with eerie clarity the actions of the Little People.

Murakami’s characters are nothing if not enigmatic and he constructs them with such careful detail that their quirks are easy to recall months later. An eccentric, protective dowager plays a silent hand in the fates of women, and the men who abuse them. A hideous, unlikable man works on behalf of dark groups without any real agenda. Fuka-Eri’s speech is strangely devoid of inflection, while the contortions of Aomame’s face in the throes of anger are so horrifying as to be unrecognizable. Tengo resembles many of Murakami’s previous heroes. He is contemplative, solitary, smart. At times his inaction has a more profound effect than any action and it is common to spend pages with him as he goes about his modest daily movements.

As the title clearly suggests, 1Q84 exhibits the themes of George Orwell’s 1984. The world that Aomame and Tengo find themselves in isn’t so different from the 1984 they know, but the currents of power have shifted and as their stories grow closer together their survival is mutually dependent.

There is much that is mystical and mysterious about Murakami’s novel, but sometimes the most incredible aspect is the love story. A foreordained quality exists in the lovers’ trajectory. The intensity of the link between the two is both sustaining and suspicious, humming too closely to the tune of a fairy tale. I find it wild that such a massive, complex and unique text is built upon such a delicate kernel of truth. Aomame and Tengo are written as incredibly solitary, self-contained people and yet their union is the fulcrum of the fate of 1Q84. The novel is an adventure, a journey through the fantastical imagination of Murakami and his incredible web of detail. There is much to analyze in the text, much to like or dislike. If you are a fan of Murakami, you will savor this book, if you are not, it may not win you over.

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