Finished 7-9 and have been mulling it over for a day or two. If nothing else, Murakami’s got more of the restrained style on display here; sentences that the younger self would have gone at with all his hep cat cool stick around for just long enough and disappear as gracefully as polite party guests.
As for my thoughts on the action of the book…
First the bits on Tengo:
He’s a familiar character in the world of Murakami; he’s aware enough, to be sure, but you get the feeling that even he doesn’t know whether he’s got it in himself to leave a trace on the world. Even if that’s the case, though, Murakami himself shines in the descriptions of Tengo’s uncomfortable childhood (particularly the father making Tengo accompany him on his rounds collecting for the NHK). Murakami’s got a gift for telling that kind of personal history, with all its Freudian undertones.
There’s another example of the strange self-contradiction that I noticed elsewhere; Tengo’s father never told stories, we are told… but then we learn that he did tell stories, fantastic ones, ones that may have been real (or maybe not), and which all had to do with his childhood and life as a young man in Manchuria. There’s more to this episode than Murakami’s obsession with Japan’s attempt to colonize Manchuria. Where stories come from; do they come from history (personal or otherwise) or some purely imaginative realm? Murakami is also coming at these questions through Fuka-Eri and her book-within-the-book, Air Chrysalis, a story which seems fantastic as a child’s fable but which may in fact be real. (As an aside, the Little People of Air Chrysalis remind me of the INKlings in Hard Boiled Wonderland).
And as for Aomame…
The connection to 1984 is becoming clearer. Aomame, having noticed that police uniforms and guns have mysteriously changed, has asked some questions and found herself in the library reading newspaper coverage of the incident that lead to the change, an incident that she can’t remember. The police were outgunned in a battle with some radicals, and there was a big scandal. The government needed to do something, and so it issued the police guns with more firepower. A few days before this incident, however, a fee collector for the NHK killed a quarrelsome customer, an even that could have lead to some embarassing and tough questions for the NHK were it not overshadowed by the shootout. Was the shootout a coverup to protect the NHK?
So we have an extremely powerful, quasi-governmental organization that may be willing to stage killings and shootouts in order to protect its existence, and which, moreover, functions through television. Murakami is always toying with the possibility that something is controlling events from a place beyond his characters’ grasp. Could the NHK be the power that moves the action of the novel from behind the scenes?
The incident with fee collector is also the first intimation of how the plots will meet; Tengo’s father was a collector for the NHK, and it is tempting to think that he was the killer in the news story that Aomame read. That would tie the plot together rather neatly, which is why I don’t think it will turn out that way.
Another view, one that I’m inclined to follow, is to trace the similarities between Aomame herself and the NHK murderer. If nothing else, they both carry concealed weapons. Little bits like that, little details that show up in multiple characters, are always important in Murakami (think of Creta Kano fitting Kumiko’s clothes to a t in Wind Up Bird Chronicle). I’ve got a little theory on how this might fit together, and I want to record it to see if it pans out.
The theory is based on the book that is most structurally similar to 1Q84 so far—Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. In that book there two worlds, so to speak—one called Hard Boiled Wonderland and the other called the End of the World, and in the end we learn that the End of the World exists in the head of Hard Boiled Wonderland’s main protagonist.
I think something similar is going on here; initially I thought that Aomame is the creation of Tengo, the writer; he’s a bit less capable, driven, and decisive cartoonish than Aomame; his lack of will is more familiar. But I’m beginning to think that it’s the opposite case. Thanks to her out-of-the-ordinary action (getting out of the cab in the middle of the highway), Aomame’s now in a different world, one she calls 1Q84. She has set the plot in motion, as if by getting out the cab on the highway she caused all the changes in the world, as if she caused Tengo, his father, his life, and his story, to spring up out of nowhere, like a subatomic particle in a nuclear explosion.
I like this idea because it is classic Murakami; his characters may not exist as separate entities, but may all be projections based on a part of one (or more!) character’s psyche.
Some things I noticed on rereading the chapters:
- The NHK fee collector-murderer couldn’t have been Tengo’s father; the muderer had been on the job for six years as of 1981, meaning he joined in 1975; this does not line up with the timeline that would put Tengo at around 30 in 1984.
- BUT I do wonder about the father’s reticence about Tengo’s mother; if Tengo’s memory is correct, and she was having a liason with another man, perhaps the father had something to do with her death (or disappearance—this is Murakami, after all); it would also put Tengo’s father in the violent-male-asshole category, which category has already come in to play in the Aomame chapters.
- The dowager is able to “befriend” butterflies by “suppressing [her] nature as a human being,” and becoming, as it were, a natural object. Which would mean that being a human is somehow unnatural.
- The dowager is also decisive and sure of herself and her instincts; sure enough to assure Aomame that what she does is right, perhaps just to keep Aomame from going off the deep end.
- My roommate (who is coincidentally on chapter seven right now) pointed out the sentence that describes the dowager brewing her herbal tea: “The woman lifted the teapot lid, inhaling the fragrance inside and checking the degree of openess in the leaves. Then she slowly filled their two cups, taking great care to ensure the equality of their strength” (81). Murakami’s doing something similar.
- Her comment about the butterflies (“they’re dainty little creatures that hardly exist at all: they come quietly, search for a few, limited things and disappear into nothingness again, perhaps to some other world,” 81) points to an appreciation of the evanescence of existence and returns to the theme of an insect who just is, like the spider Aomame considered in chapter 2. The description of Tamaru gracefully entering and exiting the hothouse has a trace of something similar (“He simply didn’t think of it as a special accomplishment.”) I might just be reading in my orientalist ideas of how Japanese Buddhism finds value in an ego-less being or whatever, but the idea jives with the idea of craft as discussed in All Things Shining, Hubert Dreyfuss and Sean Kelley’s survey of western philosophy.
The tone (I cam across some sentences I couldn’t resist marking out):
- “… Aomame took seven poloroid photographs and set them in a row, like unlucky tarot cards…” (82). A perfect, hardboiled sentence.
- Her conversation with Tamaru is clunky by contrast; there is some exposition that is as clunky as anything in Larsson (“Men still have the upper hand in Japanese society” 84), and some of the dialogue falls flat (Aomame: Where did you ever fire such a thing [as a Beretta model 92]? Tamaru: You know, the usual story. I was playing my harp by a spring when a fairy appeared out of nowhere, handed me a Beretta Model 92, and told me to shoot the white rabbit over there for target practice. 86). I’m not sure what to make of the clunkiness.
Some big, meta-ideas: part of the reason I am doing this is to record this little ideas and theories that I come up with to explain what is going on in the book. Every chapter seems like a new piece of the puzzle, and I, the reader, relish the thought of trying to put them together, even if I know they won’t really add up. There’s just something fun about it.