Book 3 Chapters 28-30
Another post full of SPOILERS.
So I just finished the book, and most of what I have to say is:
Everything fit together rather nicely in the end, though I’m sure further reflection could comb up some snaggles.1
I was completely expecting an ambiguous ending, like that of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or Norweigian Wood. That’s been Murakami’s style so far,2 but I’m glad he didn’t stick to it here, and not just because the book ends happily. For one, if it did end ambiguously I feel like he’d be doing it just to stick to his habits and reputation, and if Aomame can change her fate, why shouldn’t Murakami? Also, how else do soon-to-be parents feel but wrapped up in the relief of hope?
I liked the fairy-tale elements of the story: they have to exit the world in the same way that they entered it,3 they’re in danger until the very last minute and have to get out before it’s too late, almost like a child’s bedtime story.4 More specifically, it reminded me of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which characters leave the familiar world in which they’ve grown up, enter a crazy, topsy turvy world where everything can change, and then come back to the familiar world.
That being said, there was a sort of The Graduate moment5 when they come back to 1984 and you wonder how well things can turn out between two people who believe they’ve been in love for twenty years but don’t really know each other at all.
The Twilight of the Gods
Another bit I liked about the book was how it toyed with the idea that individuals were pawns in a game being played by forces beyond our understanding or control—gods, perhaps. These gods competed amongst each other and kept a sort of aggregate balance, but individual lives could be unbalanced one way or the other—Tamaki Otsuka and Ayumi both die undeserved deaths. And yet against this we have Aomame’s gradual realization of will—not in a Nietzchean, forge your own meaning from nothingness way, but just in a way that is quieter, more personal, that is able to invoke at least one god to come to her side of things.
As an example, Aomame repeats her prayer on the expressway at the end, but the quality of the words is different than it is with an ordinary sentence. It’s neither functional nor ornamental; it could be poetic, or it could be prayer, a means of attuning oneself to a certain, elevated state of mind. No sooner does she call out for anew world than the cabbie shows up and explains that his car’s empty because his fare left the cab to get into a middle-aged woman’s Mercedes—just the same woman who looked at Aomame as she considered suicide at the end of Book 2, and the woman who protects her in her dreams as she’s figuring out that she’s pregnant.
Is Aomame’s take on god any better than Sakigake’s? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I know that Murakami’s done his job in getting me to ask it.
Tengo’s transformation is less existential and more purely Freudian. Instead of dating a woman who reminds him of his mother, instead of perseverating on his father, inside of wanting to think about some idealized version of Aomame instead of the real live Aomame he can access, he chooses the future. It’s no mistake that Tengo thinks of some Wagnerian imagery when looking at his father’s corpse, specifically Götterdammerrung. The gods may have made humans to carry out their will, but at a certain point the responsibility shifts from the gods’ hands to man’s, from the father’s to the son’s.
Ushikawa and Murakami’s Take on Organized Religion
The story of Sakigake, from the top: Tamotsu Fukada started a “revolutionary” compound in the mountains. At some point, perhaps when his daughter was ten, the Little People, a mystical force, gained a presence in the group and it shut itself off from the outside world; instead of being a political group it became a religious group centered around—and dependent on—the Leader and his ability to hear the voice (a mystical presence) through his interaction with the shrine maidens. The nature of these interactions is tied up with sex, pregnancy, and vessels, whether literal air chrysalises or figurative uteruses, and so they have much in common with cult and religious beliefs through the ages. These communications do not seem to be solely and excuse for the Leader to violate young girls. The group needs this communication to continue; they cannot function without them. There is a fundamental contradiction in the DNA of the group then; the community cannot rely on itself per se but rather on one individual who is a part of the group. When that individual or that phenomenon stops, it cannot continue and must die a death as painful as Ushikawa’s.
And really I think that Ushikawa’s death has everything to do with Murakami’s take on cults. Sakigake hires Ushikawa out in order to preserve their connection with what they think is holy. In an sense they sully themselves with their connection to him and to other underworld elements. As a result of their instructions, he is brutally murdered and, despite what Buzzcut told Tamaru, no one at Sakigake mourns his death at all.6 They’ve gotten further and further from their founding principles, and even if they do find some way to continue in the absence of that original inspiring figure, they resort to a kind of ugliness that becomes a part of their DNA. What began pure becomes tainted with human nature as it passes down to us through time.
That connection becomes literal in the book: just as Tengo and Aomame are escaping from 1Q84, the Little People emerge from Ushikawa’s mouth and start building another air chrysalis; perhaps the compound will be able to hear the voice again through this air chrysalis, just as it began to hear the voice after the first air chrysalis was made. But this air chrysalis will have a bit of Ushikawa in it, it will be tainted by his ugliness—if indeed he was ugly in a cosmic sense; perhaps he was merely human, and that is what happens to all human interactions with the divine or the mystical.
1Murakami tied up the last loose end of how Sakigake could have known that Aomame was pregnant by suggesting that it was one of the last things that the shrine maidens heard.
2The happiest ending I can think of in his other books is South of the Border, West of the Sun, and even there you have the feeling that the mystery woman has somehow disappeared completely or died.
3Right down to Aomame wearing the same suit and shoes.
4I was worried that Aomame would turn around and in doing so lose Tengo, like Orpheus and Eurydice or Lot and his wife.
5Or The Tempest/ “O brave new world!” moment, if you’re feeling high falutin’. Or if we want to keep it within the world Murakami, it could be the moment that Toru and Kumiko decide that they’ll get married and just ignore their familial pasts.
6On top of that, Buzzcut seems more like a hired gun than a true believer in his last chapter. I didn’t much like this change in characterization, mostly because Aomame and Tamaru had spent most of the book talking about how Buzzcut and Ponytail were devoted but amateurish.