Friday, September 09, 2011

Notes on 1Q84: No1

One hundred and fifty pages into the Barcelona edition of Book One, and I think I'm beginning to understand the meaning of the title. This is more than I can say, for example, after completing the first two books of Bolaño's equally voluminous 2666.

I have to say that if I were to be making my living as one of those ghastly editor types, I'd probably have wanted to snip around 10% of the words from every scene I've come across to this point. Heaviness isn't something I have come to associate with Murakami, however much extraneous detail he might seem to willfully introduce into the moment. I suppose the Spanish translation may be partly to blame (the English one is taking its time to reach the shops as publishers promulgate the appropriate volume of buzz), but I do recall noticing that my feet were immersed in treacle at times during The Wind Up Bird Chronicle as well.

Murakami has set about an inherently more ambitious two stream narrative structure in 1Q84. One of these follows a very familiar route: one of the author's notoriously anodyne male leads is lured into mysterious territory by an enigmatic younger female. The other also features an enigmatic lady, Aomame, but she is very much more than the sum of her quirks, an apparently fully rounded feminine protagonist, and one whose day job comes as an unexpected early revelation which surely marked the moment I became fully committed to the novel.

And yet the spice of this precocious twist derives from the fact that Aomame's extraordinary vocation remains an apparently secondary part of the predicament that Murakami has established for her: her dawning realisation that the reality she is experiencing following the impulsive use of an emergency exit on a city highway to escape a major jam, differs in several important respects from the one that she began her day with. This alternative to the 'real' 1984 features the consequences of a couple of localized but significant recent news events of which she has no recollection, plus one potentially major international one, and she has duly dubbed it 1Q84.

At this moment one potential point of intersection between the alternating narrative streams is suggested, but at this stage it is only the vaguest of hints. The male lead, Tengo (an individual whose very name causes a handful of comprehension issues in the Spanish edition), a mathematics professor and would-be novelist, is compulsively pursuing what he suspects is a morally-suspect project suggested by friend and ghastly editor-type Komatsu, which involves re-writing a story conceived by a dyslexic schoolgirl in order to win a major literary prize.

Anyway, the point of connection, however tenuous, has at least temporarily alleviated the sensation of reading two entirely distinct novels concurrently.

I find that the parallel narrative format generally works better for authors of the sort of books that sell well at airports, because the fundamental technique of such writing is to interest the reader so much in the future that they can't wait to rush onwards, barely taking note of the present instant.

Now Murakami is himself no slouch when it comes to asking questions and delaying the answers, but he also has something of the skill of great literary writers (such as the aforementioned Roberto Bolaño) of involving us so much in the details of the present instant that we barely notice the compulsion to turn the page. I can't help feeling that in terms of forward momentum, Murakami has sacrificed something here to his new dual protagonist format; a fine line is being trod, but so far I am not having to work too hard to keep up the trail.

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