1Q84 Chapters 16-18

Komatsu and the picaresque

  • Komatsu is manipulating Tengo expertly; he’s made Fuka-Eri into a hostage and now Tengo has to go along to protect her.
  • In his exhortations of Tengo, Komatsu says, “This is the magnificent world of a picaresque novel. Just brace yourself and enjoy the smell of evil. We’re shooting the rapids. And when we go over the falls, let’s do it together in grand style!” (203). A few observations: Tengo suspects that Komatsu will leap to safety just before they go over the falls (209). Wikipedia says the picaresque novel as “a popular sub-genre of prose fiction which is usually satirical and depicts, in realistic and often humorous detail, the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his wits in a corrupt society.” Tengo could be a member of the low classes, and you  could say that he’ll have to survive through his wits in his dealings with Komatsu and the professor (much as Toru must survive by his wits), but he’s hardly a rogue. Also, the book isn’t satirical so much as fantastical… but that may be splitting hairs.

The professor

  • Like the dowager he is an investment guru (another parallel between the two strands).
  • He frankly says that he is using Tengo and Air Chrysalis to break a stalemate with Sakigake; Tengo is a pawn, like the narrator of Hard Boild Wonderland
  • His plan is the exact opposite of Komatsu’s-he wants to stir up the press so that they can ferret out some info on the compound; the risk is that that Fuka-Eri might have to go back to the compound (where her parents and legal guardians still presumably reside). Why not wait until she was 18? The professor is banking on the idea that Sakegaki doesn’t want any extra attention and so Fuka-Eri will be safer the more famous she is, but I am not sure if I buy it. At the very least Tengo is right: the professor is using them as bait. (though I have to admit that the professor’s response that she is at the center of a whirlpool is fantastic, 237).
  • Fuka-Eri decides to stay with Tengo, as if she knows that she can’t quite trust the professor; it reminds me of Creta Kano going down the well after Toru gets out of it—Toru just senses that he shouldn’t tell Malta Cano where her sister is.
  • Where is Azami in all this? She’s a player who hasn’t emerged yet.

Orwell Revisited

  • Have to mention that the professor brings up 1984 again; it seems that Murakami is very deliberately setting up his book as a successor; it isn’t Big brother, but the Little People who will change everything.

Fuka-Eri and Sex

  • I liked this bit: “He thought about her chest, its beautiful curves. The shape was so perfect it had almost no sexual meaning.” (209)
  • From the start Tengo has thought that Fuka-Eri is, well, hot. He hadn’t mentioned it in a while, but now it is coming back.
  • She calls him to set up a meeting—Komatsu has always been the intermediary so far. Hmmm. Will the hot, sheltered but sure of herself young woman sleep with the older man, like all Larsson’s women wind up sleeping with Blomkvist?
  • Is Murakami being frank about sexuality or a creep? Even if there is some sort of contact between Fuka-Eri and Tengo, you get the feeling that it’d be the gentlest introduction she could have to sex; that he’d be miles better than Tamaki’s first lover, for example. And even thinking about it so, uhm, flexibly makes me think of the flexible morals of the dowager and Aomame. It’s not right to murder someone, even if that person drives his wives to suicide… or is it? If we can think flexible about a moral rule like that, how different is it to think flexibly about a moral rule like a 30 year old man having to stay away from a 17 year old woman? If nothing else, I think Murakami is posing an uncomfortable question in a way that someone like Stieg Larsson wouldn’t.
  • There’s also a connection with authorship here; when Fuka-Eri invites herself to stay over with Tengo she says that “We are one” because she and Tengo wrote the book together (238). So you have to people, a male and a female, who have become one in the process of creating a third entity. The metaphor should be obvious, though I might be more sensitive to it ‘cause I’m rereading Joyce.

The puzzle-dream that ends Chapter 16 (210)

  • Murakami could be commenting on what he is doing as an author and what I am doing as a reader: Tengo is a puzzle piece whose shape keeps changing. He (and I) are trying to put things in order, but it just ain’t happening.

Murakami and the Music

  • Fuka-Eri likes the Well-Tempered Clavier and St. Matthew’s Passion (and it is a perfect touch to have her know them by their BWV numbers—she is ostensibly cut off from their titles’ strict meaning and association). I think Clavier came up in an earlier Tengo section, and appropriately so; Bach’s otherworldly, mathematical beauty is in keeping with his character, and, perhaps, Fuka-Eri’s
  • The dowager listens to Dowland’s Lachrimae.

The Dowager and Her Madness

  • The whole book is growing into an entertaining arena to talk about heady ideas (and that isn’t a bad thing), eg their talk about history and high art (214) or how genes use us for their own purposes (a viewpoint I seem to recall associating with Richard Dawkins, whom Murakami may be quoting).
  • As for their talk about genes: genes use us without consideration of good or evil; and yet they equip us with the faculties to think about good and evil. “A contradiction arises” indeed (215)
  • “The air is heavy [in the dowager’s house], and time had its own special way of flowing.” (214). Personally powerful people have that effect.
  • She made the person who drove her daughter to suicide to uncomfortable circumstances; she destroyed him, in a sense. Given that the professor is a bit more sinister than he’d been previously, I wonder if the husband could be him or could be related to the religious compound. (the urge to tie every loose end to a character in the book is nigh overwhelming).  The compound does have access to mysterious, large amounts of money.
  • When the dowager makes her proposal on page 220 Aomame has some interesting thoughts; that she is not mad, but has a sort of madness about her; that she has a “correct prejudice,” (which is a fantastic idea, a paradox along the line of her telling Aomame that a bit of corruption is the only way to keep from being megalomaniacal and justifying your actions with the purity of your feelings); Aomame decides to join her with this thought: “Even if I give myself over to the madness—or prejudice—here and now, even if doing so destroys me, even if this world vanishes in its entirety, what do I have to lose?” Maybe Aomame has come back to a real world and just needs to recognize it?
  • Aomame diving back into her memory is also a suggestive paragraph; how do we remember things? Is it like a fish going upstream?

The Dowager and Her Mission

  • A new mission has come up for Aomame: typical spy novel set-up stuff: we’d usually give you more time to rest, but time is of the essence in this case; we have a limited window of opportunity and can’t think of anything else that might work, blah blah blah. And as in any good spy novel, Aomame’s particular mission has no chance of running as smoothly as the first.
  • And it has to do with a potentially abused child who—gasp!—says that the Little People were responsible for her treatment. Another instance of overlap between the two worlds, a connection that shines and doesn’t rely on the murkiness of personal memory.

A Wounded Uterus

  • This case seems so grisly because of the age of the girl (ten—Fuka-Eri’s age when she escaped the compound mysteriously, and the age at which Aomame said she fell in love) and because she cannot have children—her uterus is beyond repair.
  • Aside from giving another chance to say how men have it easier (millions of sperm in every ejaculation) than women (just 400 eggs for a lifetime, eggs that must be protected), it also has some strange reflections of fertility and birth, which phenomena are often tied up in cult philosophies (and Murakami—Wind Up Bird Chronicle was all about bloodlines and inheritance; even here we’ve got Aomame counting the number of eggs she has left, picturing them with a label reading “reserved” right after a chapter when she’s wondered if she is saving a special part of her for the boy who’s hand she held when she was ten; could her eggs be that special part?). It’s all tied in with the mystery of the Sakegaki.
  • For all her unbelievability, the dowager’s story about WWI and Paris somehow rings true, and seems like it would actually comfort Tsubasa (the little girl).

My Prediction Doesn’t Work Out

  • I’d wondered in my last post if Tengo has the reason and the will, but no desire to write; I reread and realized that I was wrong—until he’d corrected Air Chrysalis, he didn’t have the desire to really excel at anything.
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