This, well, this isn’t going to be a very good post — not because I didn’t love the book, which I didn’t, but because I don’t care to work that hard at writing about it. However, I feel like the investment of reading it merits a few words, if only so I can prove to myself years later that I read it, and so I can remember it. And what’s more, sometimes poorly written blog posts can open up a dialog better than really well considered ones. I’ll set the bar pretty low and if you read the book you might respond, and if you didn’t read the book, well, don’t read this because like I said this isn’t going to be a very good post.
But for the sake of documentation, here’s what’s what in Haruki Murakami’s novel, 1Q84, which I bought because it was on sale for $12 at Amazon, in hardback (SPOILER ALERT, probably): this woman named Aomame is on her way to kill a misogynist, but the highway is jammed up, so she urgently debarks from the cab and climbs a rickety ladder off the road. Before she does, the cab driver says something like, “When you do something weird like this, everything changes and things might not be what they seem to be anymore.” And then they are not.
For instance, now there are two moons in the sky.
Meanwhile, this guy — a wannabe novelist — named Tengo is commissioned to work with a mysterious teenaged girl named Fuka-Eri on a story that a publisher is sure will win a prize. It’s not an ethical thing to do, ghost write literary fiction, but what the heck, the story is so good it deserves it. And it turns out that the novel is not so much a novel but a documentation of the fantastic and effed up stuff that this religious cult named Sakigake does. For instance, they create an “air chrysalis,” which is like a nest hatched by little people, from which psychic interactions and fake people occur. Whatever! I don’t!
The chapters of the book switch between the perspectives of Aomame and Tengo, who knew each other when they were in elementary school. They had a meaningful interaction, in which jocular Tengo held dweebish Aomame’s hand momentarily. (In those days, Aomame’s family subscribed to their own fringe religion, and Tengo was the half-orphaned son of a bill collector, so neither were very well heeled.) The hand holding held with the two, and unbeknownst to each other, their life goals are to one day reunite. Their relatively interesting sex lives aren’t passionate without each other.
The two become indirectly entangled when Aomame is assigned (by her assassination boss, a caring elderly feminist — and Tamaru, my favorite character in the book, a reasonable, gay, badass) to kill the leader of Sakigake, while the group has been pursuing Tengo for writing the book, Air Chrysalis, which was indeed an instant success. They are resigned on his account once all the books have been pulped, but they are vigilantly pursuing Aomame now, because she did, in fact, murder their leader, who actually, in fact, wanted to be murdered because he was so fat and kept raping girls so that he could hear a voice.
1Q84 is split into three books (and in Japan, apparently, it was published as a trilogy). The first and second book are paced effectively, but I found that the first 200 pages of the third book retrod much of the same material — the inner workings of the well-established motivations — so my reading slowed down at this point to a “who-gives-a-rat’s” level. However, the third book does introduce Ushikawa, a Private Investigator hired by Sakigawe to locate Aomame. He’s a peculiar genius, and he gets part of the chapter structure, but he never finds Aomame.
In the end Aomame follows Ushikawa to Tengo’s building and then Tamaru gets in touch with Tengo on Aomame’s behalf and then they are finally reunited. Together they ascend the ladder to the highway where the Aomame’s life diverged, and in that way they re-enter 1984. (1Q84 is 1984, but with Questions, you see. Tengo calls the weird world “Cat Town,” after a story in which a guy gets off a train in a town filled with cats and can never get out.)
This summary, while ruining the ending of the book, leaves out a lot. For instance, the fact that Fuka-Eri was actually a dohta or whatever, some fake version of a person born of the air chrysalis, that is meant to be a receiver for some other whatever. One night Fuka Eri sort of paralyzes Tengo and sexes him up, and he ejaculates inside her, and this impregnates Aomame a city away, and Aomame just figures this to be the natural case of things because she hadn’t had sex with anybody in a long time, since her sex confidant, a police officer, was brutally murdered in medias coitus.
It also leaves out — why’s Murakami so obsessed with breasts? It gets pretty uncomfortable there for a while. I know I’m not the only person who noticed this. I mentioned it to my friend Jamie and we had a good laugh. Did anyone else find this obsession overwhelming?
It also leaves out a quibble that is no small quibble. Murakami makes a big deal about a quote from Carl Jung — in fact it’s engraved above Jung’s door — that says “Vocatus Atque Non Vocatus, Aderit,” which is Latin for “Summoned or not, God is there.” I’ve also seen it translated as “Called or not, God is there.” There isn’t much to scrutinize here. It’s a great notion, one that I’ve been interested in with relation to Jung for a long time. But in 1Q84, there is a lot of emphasis put on this quote as meaning “COLD or not, God is there,” as if there is some way Vocatus could mean “Cold.” I don’t understand this. It seems like a fundamental error. Is there something to be gleaned from the mistranslation?
I’ve looked for an explanation in other reviews, but no one mentions it as a problem.
Which, to me, underscores how lousy and lifeless the rest of the translation is, and maybe Murakami doesn’t suck, he just sucks in translation?
And yet, anyway, at this point, I’ve wondered too long.