Friday, January 13, 2012

1Q84: Some Further Thoughts

Todd's excellent review of 1Q84 largely captured my own reactions to the book.

I don't know if Todd felt this way as well, but 1Q84 struck me as a significant departure from Murakami's prior works.  In his other novels, such as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World the bizarre things that happen seem to reflect the interior, unconscious life of the characters.  Or to put it another way, the libraries, the wells, the sheep and the unicorns all feel like pieces of the unconscious, brought forward into the tangible world. 

In 1Q84, Murakami abandons this exploration of the individual unconscious to play with concept of a social unconscious (something he appears to have been seriously interested in since Underground, his non-fiction work about the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system.)  1Q84's little people, its town of cats -- these are not expressions of Aomame's or Tengo's psyche, but rather of society. 

One senses that Murakami doesn't know quite what he wants to do with these pieces, and he never fully unravels them.   But as Murakami focuses on the social, a strange thing happens to the characters -- they become two-dimensional.  Tengo and Aomame are fun to read about, but they are not particularly interesting.  Their only purpose is to push the narrative forward.  And boy, does it move.  Frequently, I got the same feeling as I got when reading a (very well-written) comic book.  That is something I have never felt when reading Murakami before.

1Q84 has something else in common with comic books as well.  Comic books inspire the need for sequels (and prequels).  The same is true of comic-like movies -- Star Wars for example. 

And what do we know about sequels?  They are virtually never as good as the original.

Book 3 of 1Q84 is, I believe a sequel.  It was published a year after the original as a separate book, and I suspect it was conceptualized only after Books 1 and 2 (which were published together as a single volume) had been written.  The British publishers respected this development, and published the English translation of Book 3 separately.  If the American publishers had followed this scheme, I think that Book 3 could have stood on its own as a lesser, but still interesting, Murakami novel.  But to slap the sequel right at the end of the original, and pretend it is part of the same work?  It just didn't work.  The narrative arc had already been completed.

Murakami continues to allude to the fact that there may be more to follow.  "It’s hard for me to say now if I will release a Book 4 or Book 0 of the 1Q84 series,” he remarked to the Japanese media. ”What I can say now is there are stories before (Book 1) and after (Book 3).”

I'll be willing to read those stories.  But only with the recognition that they are, in fact, separate stories.

Related posts:
Book Review: Murakami's 1Q84


  1. Joel, these are very astute observations. Since i've read this, I've been pondering the idea of the book as a social unconscious and doing so is a lot of fun - and also has the added benefit of explaining Ushikawa's role in part 3. You could also say that since so much of the book is concerned with the idea of not only crossing over into a parallel world but also of becoming irretrievably lost there, the book could be read as anxiety of losing individuality in the larger social structure (like so many of the cults in the book). I like it.

  2. I think you can debate all day about the writers meaning or hidden intent whether its Murakami, Chris Nolan or anybody else. And I would go further and say, that perhaps the meaning is irrelevant. What is important in my mind is the state the writing catapults the reader into. What's the visceral reaction both consciously and sub-conciously? What new neuron paths are created in the readers mind?
    In many of Murakami's early works, all of which I enjoyed, when I hit those parts that were incomprehensible to me they remained so. I didn't have that experience with 1Q84. Rather it seemed like a roadmap to my own remembering process and a reminder of the state of collective & selective amnesia that living in a 21st century mediascape creates.