First a note to anyone catching this wave from goodreads: I am sorry that I am not participating in any discussions yet—I am still ducking any spoilers that I might come across.
In other news, I have found another group of people who are reading 1Q84. I very nearly tackled them (metaphorically) in my enthusiasm to talk about the book but managed to tone down my excitement at least a little bit. I am wondering it is is advisable (or ethical, given my own worries about spoilers) to let them know about this project.
In the meantime…
Murakami’s treatment of Ushikawa reminds me of the neorealist school of Italian literature (Giovanni Verga and the like); they trash and belittle their characters to the point of comedy, to the point where I couldn’t really believe their disdain. Ultimately, their characters wound up with a weird sort of life beyond their description in the book just because that description was so over the top.
And Ushikawa is like that too. In Wind-Up Bird Chronicle he was believably loathsome, but here Murakami is almost at pains to show that he accepted an extremely unpleasant childhood stoically (like Aomame and Tengo)1, that he identifies his family’s shallow nature and worked to avoid it,2 and that he is, after all, a rather intelligent person. And yet his descriptions are over the top; Ushikawa is like a centipede in a cup of yogurt, an interloper in what would otherwise be a pleasant family photo, and so on.
There is an interesting line that made me chuckle: Ushikawa wonders what life would have been like if he had been born more handsome, “But this was a supposition that exceeded his powers of imagination. Ushikawa was too Ushikawa-like, and there was no room in his brain for such hypotheses” (731-32). There is a bit of sleight of hand going on here: how can he be anything but Ushikawa-like when he himself is Ushikawa? Doesn’t he have any hand in the formation of his own personality? It’s like criticising a political candidate for being a political candidate—their damned as soon as they start running, as soon as they allow that label to apply to them.
The difference between Ushikawa and Tengo is sleight: Ushikawa listens to Sibelius while thinking things through, but he doesn’t connect with the music (and we might be relieved by that). He misses the connection with Janacek.
There is something strange about the way he defuses the rental agent; Ushikawa himself suggests that it’d not be a good idea to let him look at the apartment by himself, as though daring the agent to mistrust him.
There is a sick sort of existential resignation to him, as though he can’t escape himself; he is relieved when the life he’s built for himself falls apart, when his wife leaves him, takes their daughters, and marries a different man, as though that were a false fate that he shouldn’t have taken on to begin with. He is happy to keep his place in the world, I think earlier he was glad to know that it would be there for him; the world needs ugly people too.
The theme of inheritance and bloodlines came up again in this chapter; Ushikawa’s family is almost relieved when they learn of a similarly ugly forbear (despite the possibility that they carry such ugly genes in them), and Ushikawa accepts that his daughters don’t talk to him because he knows that his blood is in them, like a genetic disease.
As for Aomame
The big revelation here, I guess, is that she believes in god; not in an old man who lives on a cloud stroking his white bread, but some mystical presence that exists everywhere, in all things, in the same way that we believe in protons and neutrons and other bits of substance.
The dream of Ponytail and Buzzcut waiting for her to give birth foreshadows the possibility that the child is Tengo’s and that the cult at Sakigake will be particularly interested in it as it would the product of a strange sex rectangle between Tengo, Fuka-Eri, the Leader, and Aomame.
The dowager describes Ushikawa to Aomame over the phone, which seems like it may figure into the plot; perhaps Aomame will realize that Ushikawa is trailing Tengo and that she mustn’t make contact in order to protect him. Hell, maybe that’s why nothing happens when Tengo goes back to the slide to look at the moon. The only reason I didn’t plow ahead to figure out what the hell happened was that it took me so long to write about these chapters, and I didn’t want to forget anything pertinent.
The idea of exchange was prevalent here as well, you get something for giving something, you can never have it all. The Leader mentioned it to Aomame, as does the dowager.
So he goes back tot he slide and nothing happens. Of course I am dying to figure out what the hell, happened especially as he looked directly at the building in which Aomame is staying. Is Ushikawa tailing him? Did she get distracted and miss him at the slide? Was she on the phone with the dowager?
He wonders what an ordinary family would look like around a dinner table, what they would talk about. That kind of alienation is what draws a lot of people to Murakami, and yet I think I do know what kind of conversation they would have. Can I really get Tengo or Aomame in that case?
My hunch about Fuka-Eri seems to have been correct; she sensed that something was up and split. What I didn’t expect was that Komatsu would be back, and that he’d be the one to bring some more twists and turns in store for Tengo; it seems that Ebisuno is just as interested as Sakigake in the possibility that Fuka-Eri has found a new Receiver, and that this connection would be linked to sex. A little more obvious would be that Sakigake would kidnap him as the publisher of Air Chrysalis. Did he spill the beans to them about Tengo?
1Like Aomame and Tengo.
2Given the harshness of the descriptions it almost seems as if they are meant to echo Ushikawa’s own feelings for his family. But the narrator seems biased against Ushikawa and wouldn’t have any reason for sympathizing with him. Whether or not we can trust these descriptions depends on how willing we are to review our memories with a similarly cynical viewpoint, and that whole process might be what Murakami is trying to get us to do. Or not.