If you really want to know what’s happening here and now, you’ve got to use your own eyes and your own judgment.
After three books and more than 900 pages, it all comes down to believing in another person. In their very existence. And in the existence of a world where two moons hang in the sky.
In Book 3, which takes place from October to December in an alternate world that the heroine Aomame has named 1Q84, a cult is after both her and our hero Tengo. They have not seen each other since they were 10 years old. They’ve lived separate lives for 20 years. But now, the coincidence of the cult — with Tengo ghostwriting a bestseller that actually betrays its secrets and Aomame killing the cult leader (albeit with his blessing), an operative named Ushikawa is trying to find them both.
Ushikawa is an interesting character. I was not expecting the first chapter in his new book to start with this oily and suspicious character. It turns out he’s got a backstory and by the end of it, I started to like the old sap.. The ugly little man once was a successful attorney with a wife and family. But he skirted past what isn’t ethical and now operates more outside the law and society than within either. He discovers the old connection between Tengo and Aomame. When he gets too close, Aomame’s ally takes care of the problem. The cult is flummoxed. They’ve lost the voice they listen to but change their minds about going after Aomame. They desparately want to talk to her. She’s carrying a child.
Murakami leaves until the end whether the child is important to the cult or if any of the players — cult members, Tengo, Ushikawa, even Aomame — really know everything that’s going on.
The resolution of the cult’s problem, its pursuit of Aomame and whether she and Tengo are trapped in a world with two moons reminds me more of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell than anything else. Ushikawa’s fate is like that of a once-sinister character in that book. What Aomame calls 1Q84 and Tengo calls The Town of Cats, based on a story he reads about a deserted town where the only inhabitants are cats at night, is the realm of fairies in European folklore. And not nice fairies. These are the ones who enjoy tormenting humans and who keep them at endless parties for years on end, always dancing.
Other notes in the overall novel do echo other Murakami works. The NHK collector who pounds on the door where Aomame is in hiding and Tengo’s apartment when Fuki-Eri — the teenager who wrote the original story about the Little People that Tengo rewrote — may or may not be Tengo’s father. He’s lying in a coma in a coastal town that Tengo also likens to the Town of Cats. The only movement he makes, the reader learns after his death, is of his hand knocking against the bed, much as someone knocking at a door.
Both Tengo’s mother and Aomame’s friend suffer the same kind of death, recalling the across-time travel that took place in Kafka on the Shore. The whole other world and the air chrysalis that is a womb call to mind the alternate reality and deeply sleeping figure in After Dark.
All of these works by Murakami feature lonely, isolated people who still remain open to the idea of connecting with another human when one, no matter how seemingly unattainable, comes across their path. It’s the belief that they might matter and the openness to connecting that make Murakami a sweet author. The last chapters are full-throttle sentimental and are as successful as his earlier passages about sex were not. The feeling is far more important than the plot. Aomame and her friend Tamaru, the dowager’s right-hand man who is a deadly killer and intellectual, convey this when saying goodbye in a telephone call:
“I might end up never firing the pistol. Contrary to Chekhov’s principle.”
“That’s fine, too,” Tamaru said. “Nothing could be better than not firing it. We’re drawing close to the end of the twentieth century. Things are different from back in Chekhov’s time. No more horse-drawn carriages, no more women in corsets. Somehow the world survived the Nazis, the atomic bomb, and modern music. Even the way novels are composed has changed drastically. So it’s nothing to worry about.”
The contrast between the sweetness at the end and the realization in Book 3 that not all lives are so meaningful is realized by Ushikawa:
Everything he had done seemed pointless. He had used up all the cards he’d been dealt — not that great a hand to begin with. He had taken that lousy hand and used it as best he could to make some clever bets. For a time things looked like they were going to work out but now he had run out of cards. The light at the table was switched off, and all the players had filed out of the room. …
Where in the world did I come from? he asked himself in the dark. And where the hell am I going?
What I didn’t like
- One glaring deficit in Murakami’s works that I’ve come to realize is that they don’t move you. Most of his works are love stories that center around seemingly “average” but actually eccentric individuals seeking a missing piece. Despite being love stories, his stories don’t make you feel any despair, hope, elation or any strong emotion.
- The boobs are back! If you tried the Drinking Game you will be totalled by now.
- Here is my list, which does not include volume one of 1Q84, easily the most tit-heavy of the three; I might have overlooked a few though
I might as well have them do a breast enlargement
Her chest had not yet begun to develop
A skinny little girl without breasts
Their brand-new breasts clearly showing through their clothes
Aomame’s flat chest which lacked even the hint of a swelling
Large breasts that attracted attention
Her rather sad little breasts
The shape and size of her breasts
If only her breasts had been a little larger
She touched her breasts
They were the same breasts as always
What will be left of me besides those breasts?
The image of his mother in a white slip giving her breasts to a young man he did not know
The size of her breasts
Her breasts were startlingly large for a girl with such a slim body
Her breasts were perfect hemispheres
Her breasts themselves were large
Her breasts themselves seemed virtually uninflected by the force of gravity
The rhythm with which her breasts rose and fell
The size of her breasts had not changed
Her chest developed
Again wishing her chest could have been somewhat bigger
Her flat chest
Her breasts were compact but ample
Tengo could see the swell of her chest
Pressing it against her breasts
Her less than ample breasts
Her soft breasts lying against his arm
Her ample breasts
The swell of her breasts
She has generous breasts for such a slim girl
This lovely swelling
She touched her breasts
Her breasts were now slightly larger
If her breasts were in his hands
Her breasts definitely were swollen
Let some unknown man suck her breasts
Some unknown man sucking on his mother’s breasts
The breasts that should have been his alone were stolen by somebody else
Her breasts were ample and round
She remembered her smooth beautifully shaped breasts
Those beautiful breasts
She mourned their lovely breasts
My breasts are kind of small
- 1Q84 apparently was conceived as two books rather than the three it ended up being. That would explain part of why the whole feel so drawn out. There is much repetition. There are plot holes all over the place, especially acknowledged ones, and disbelief is always is danger of not remaining suspended. But when one lover promises another “I’ll never let go of your hand again,” it doesn’t matter. Because that kind of love may not be believable by everyone. But for those who do, there’s nothing stronger.