A Year of Big Books

one man, one year: one-thousand-page novels

Once in a New, Green, and Slightly Lopsided Moon

This is rare, folks: I’m writing a post within A WEEK of my previous one. You truly don’t see this very often. I hope it feels as much of a privilege on your end of the internet as it does on mine.

1q84Probably the main reason I’m able to write so soon on the heels of my last post is that, in addition to being a quick-paced and easy read, the printing of the novel which I’m reading has conveniently divided Books 1, 2, and 3 of the novel into three physically separate books. Perhaps the relative brevity of 380-some-odd pages increases my motivation because the end seems nearer (though I’m technically only a third of the way through the novel).

In any case, as the left-aligned image indicates, I’m reading Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 — a novel which is easy to read, but the title of which is impossible to pronounce (I keep going back and forth between “one-cue-eight-four” and “cueteen-eighty-four“). Apparently the title is a translational play on words, because the number 9 in Japanese is pronounced “kew.”

Let me first say that I love Murakami. Then let me contextualize that statement by saying that I’ve only read one other novel of his, Kafka on the Shore — which I loved. Not that I carry much weight in the ‘literary world,’ but Murakami seems to be not only the preeminent Japanese novelist today, but one of the most (if not the most) widely renowned, up-and-coming, international writers alive. I say that because, to my knowledge, there are not many Japanese novelists who are widely-read in America. Also, because I remember a few years ago seeing a review of 1Q84 on Amazon and being intrigued, having never heard of Murakami; and it seemed like the very next day there were 10 different Murakami novels shelved in every Barnes & Noble fiction section. I bought Kafka… first because I wasn’t yet as brave to tackle thousand-pagers as I am today (wink).

murakamiPart of the reason for Murakami’s sudden success may be due to the somewhat mysterious way he got into fiction writing. Supposedly (and the only source I have to verify this claim is Wikipedia), he was at a baseball game in Tokyo (based on his novels, Murakami’s a big fan of the game) when American player, Dave Hilton, came up to the plate and hit a double. According to Murakami, he inexplicably realized in that moment that he could write a novel — and has since written 12 (13 if you count the one due out this year — not to mention short stories, essays, and other nonfictions).

And perhaps the borderline-mystical way in which he became a novelist has had an influence on his work — or maybe it’s just his style — but I think another reason for Murakami’s success is that he is an absolute master of the surreal. From what I’ve read of (and about) his work, Murakami thrives in the obscure, the enigmatic, the intangible, the dreamlike. He has a way of creating an atmosphere that is… off, just skewed enough for you to tilt an eyebrow, and yet you don’t (and cannot) question it: you enter it, willingly suspending all disbelief. I have never read an author who blends dreams and reality like Murakami. And I’m picky — I am. I am not a fan of cliché, and I am usually bored with the “Is it real, or isn’t it?” question, but this guy does it differently. Like a dream, it’s difficult to put into words just how it’s different, but it is. Maybe it’s because when you read Murakami, the point isn’t whether or not it’s real: the meaning comes from relationship between the two worlds.

inception1Q84 is no different. Taking place in the year 1984,  it follows the lives of two different characters — Tengo, a writer who has been unethically commissioned by an editor friend to rewrite a 17-year-old girl’s novella, and Aomame, an ‘ethical’ assassin who is hired only to kill domestically-abusive men — as their worlds come closer and closer to merging on account of the secretive happenings of an isolative cult. I guess it sounds kind of ridiculous to say altogether, but it is extremely interesting.

Intended (to some degree) to be a improvisation on George Orwell’s 19841984_large (which is referenced in the book a number of times), Murakami has already brought glimpses of the danger of total control coupled with unquestioning obedience, of rewriting of history and the subtle shifting of reality — for instance when Aomame suddenly notices that there are two moons in the sky: the regular, yellow, round-shaped moon, and a smaller, greener, and slightly lopsided moon, orbiting just beside it. She calls this new world “1Q84: the world that bears a question.” This delineation between and yet inextricability of the two worlds is classic Murakami–he uses division as powerful theme in the novel: division of worlds, division of self, division of intentions, etc., etc.

I’d hate to end this post on a bad note, but there are two thing about the novel that are bothering me. This was true of Kafka on the Shore as well, but it seems like Murakami is bizarrely obsessed with sex, and bizarre sex at that. I am not bothered by sex in a novel, but when it seems like purely for the purpose of attention-getting or book-selling and has no symbolic or plot relevance, it gets a little old and is honestly kind of tasteless.

I also have to say I have been really disappointed with the dialogue, and especially the internal monologue, of this novel. The writing in those sections is just bad, honestly. It’s even kind of irritating. And I don’t remember feeling this way when reading Kafka on the Shore.

To put a positive twist on a negative note, however, it crossed my mind that it may be a translation issue and not a writing issue. And, it turns out, 1Q84 had two translators: Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel. Kafka on the Shore (which I loved) was translated by Philip Gabriel; the first two books of 1Q84 were translated by Jay Rubin, but the third… (drumroll)… was by Philip Gabriel! So I have something to look forward to, even if the first two books have remedial dialogue.

I suppose I could have said a lot more about the novel itself, rather than focusing so much on the author, but if all goes well, I have two more posts coming down the pike before I finish this one, which will give the themes time to develop. I can’t wait!

Read on.

(I used ^that in like my first or second post, intending it to be my usual sign-off, and then Infinite Jest beat me senseless for 2 1/2 months, and I completely forgot about it. I kind of like it, so I’ll try to reinstitute it, if you don’t mind.)




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A Year of Big Books

one man, one year: one-thousand-page novels

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