By R Alexander
This is part 2 of 2 of a review of Haruki Murakami's novel 1Q84. You can link to the first part here.
Structurally, non-realist narratives are no different from more standard “realistic” fictions. They create a narrative tension, often involving some sort of conflict, and then they resolve that tension in some way. What I’m addressing here is narrative structure, and what I’ve posited sounds simplistic, I suppose. Even if a story is non-realistic (as in, say, magical realism, surrealist fiction, slip stream stories, science fiction or fantasy, fabulist pieces, and whatever else), there is some sort of hook or some way that the reader can relate to what’s going on, and there is narrative tension built on conflict. In addition to this, stories provide a sense of closure, at or near their end. Non-realist stories tend to play with the conventions of these two aspects of story and to make that play an explicit part of the narrative. Kafka, for instance, tells the story of a person who turns into a bug. That story takes as its starting place an event that is impossible and also horrific. We can become involved in this story though, not because we are interested in entomology, but because we recognize something human in the situation. Sympathetic readers of the story will recognize that it is about, among other things, alienation, about the creaturely nature of our nature, and about family. So the story involves us in a very straightforward way. And the story has a very straightforward sense of closure at the end. The story ends with Gregor Samsa’s death and with changes that occur among the family because of it.
Writers of whatever stripe engage their readers in diverse ways. Gabriel Garcia Marquez' works, the sine qua non of "magic realism," plunge into family, history, and culture, into the relations of people among themselves and their struggle to achieve relationships or the way those familial, historical, and cultural relationships become entangled and complicated and fulfilled or frustrated. The dream-like fleetingness of Garcia Marquez’ style is itself part of what he is saying about the nature of those relationships. Likewise Salman Rushdie’s picaresque style enacts part of the argument he is making about the accidental sometimes indecent or inhumane shape human lives can be twisted into by historical and/or cultural forces. Samuel Beckett's pieces are musings on language, memory, and identity, and his works are like the mind at play. Borges is the master, invoking mirrors and libraries and labyrinths, and thereby taking up notions of perception, of quantum realities and the forking nature of time and causality, and of notions of historicity and knowledge.