Saturday, 21 January 2012

1Q84, Haruki Murakami

this book is an enigma, a riddle, the most mysterious part of which is - how do you say the title?  and how do you say it in Japanese?  Anyone tell me?  The three volumes, I think the best part of a thousand pages, though when you read on a Kindle (highly recommended unless you are in a dark room) you can't tell how many pages there are or how long the book is, took me into their world.  And it was a world I not only did not want to be in, but a world I did not even want to think about.  And yet I couldn't stop reading.  The translation (the three volumes have two different translators, presumably so the English version could be got out quickly to an impatient public) is limpid and beautiful.  I have debated with commenters before about works in translation.  I don't disapprove of translated books, as some seem to think, I would just rather read the original.  This translation made me want to read Murakami in Japanese.  Well, I will try. If I had to use one word to describe this book it would be "creepy".  The hairs really did stand up on my forearms while I was reading, and I really did get a dry throat and a pounding heart while I was reading, and heave a sigh of relief when what I was dreading did not happen.  There are stand-alone statements in the book which are either profound or meaningless, or possibly both "Reality was utterly coolheaded and utterly lonely".  "That's what the world is after all: an endless battle of contrasting memories".  "You can't choose how you are born, but you can choose how you die."  There are supposed to be only seven plots in the world, and this is the star-crossed lovers one.  But - a boy who carved rats from wood?  Terrifying little people who come into the world out of dead creatures' mouths?  An angry television licence fee collector we never see?  The dowager in the butterfly house, straight from The Big Sleep.  And from a conversation I had with my former Japanese teacher, who was a college friend of Murakami, after the 1987 UK hurricane, about the destruction of the butterfly house at Kew.  I promise you, six degrees of separation. Where was I?  The book is set in 1984.  Importantly, because no mobile phones or internet, and thus more secrets.  Crucial to the plot is an emergency escape stairway on the Tokyo elevated motorway, intended for drivers who have had to abandon their cars because of fire or earthquake.  The book was written before the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami happened.  The plot is star-crossed lovers, and I wondered from time to time about the utterly improbable things that happened.  Could a person kill another person while that person's bodyguards are in the next room, and get away with it?  (I'm not telling you whether that actually happens or not, only that it is planned).  One character is given a pager (in 1984?  Well, in 1980 I saw video recorders in Japan, and had never seen them before) and keeps and uses it for quite a a long time, without ever seeming to need to charge it.  Murakami writes the same character often in his books.  The depressed, traumatised, barely articulate, beautiful teenage girl - maybe he goes too far this time in giving this one "improbably large breasts", the teenage suicide (these two may be the same person), the tough woman Bad Things Happen To.  And music.  Always music.  Here Janacek's Sinfonietta and the song 'Only a Paper Moon'.  Ah yes, the moon.  Two moons in the sky.  Why is that so frightening?  The nights here have been cloudy lately: on the next clear night i shall be afraid to look up at the sky. A man tells his life to his father, who may not be his father, and who is in a coma.  Everyone has memories which may not be memories, which may be false, or may be something else altogether.  And sometimes - a wilting rubber plant on a balcony, a billboard advertising petrol, an empty children's playground at night - the quotidian life is glimpsed as an opportunity to go Somewhere Else. I have read some books which I have been glad to finish, because I haven't liked them.  I've read some books which I have been glad to finish because I wanted to find out what happened in the end.  I've read some books I was sorry to finish because they were such good stuff.  When I had finished the first two volumes of this (published together in the UK and Europe) I was positively gibbering because I couldn't get wifi to download the third one.  But I was relieved to finish this book.  I don't want to think about that world, in which there may be two moons in the sky, 1984 is 1Q84, little people come out at night to make strange things, and some people who seem strange or absent are not really quite human. It's important.  Read it.  And then let's talk. 

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