By R Alexander
Haruki Murakami writes short stories and big novels where weird things take on strange importance: a disappearing cat leads to a detective type adventure, ears are erotic, jazz and classical music beckons and have magically transformative properties, abandoned wells harbor mysteries. Metaphysics as meaning seems to loom over his work. With each book he writes and as the books get longer, greater and greater claims are made concerning their importance. His latest work, 1Q84, is being called his magnum opus, and a great work of world literature. The book is so long, in fact, that Random House hired two translators, Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel, to work on it simultaneously so they could get it to press in a reasonable time.
1Q84 mainly concerns two people living in Tokyo in 1984 who, early in the novel, find themselves in a parallel or alternate universe. The novel’s title refers to one of the character's name for the alternate universe. The “Q,” in 1Q84, stands for "question,” and there is apparently a sonic play on “Q” and “9” in the original Japanese, similar, I suppose to the orthographic play on or resemblance between the figures for “q” and “9” in English.
Aside from this little play on “Q” and “9” in the title, however, Murakami’s prose style remains straightforwardly realistic. No GV Desani-style linguistic or cultural tom-foolery here. Murakami is well known for being the Japanese translator of Raymond Carver and F Scott Fitzgerald, and these influences, Carver’s in particular, are not hidden. In1Q84, Murakami does not depart from his characteristic style and themes.
1Q84’s two protagonists are Tengo Kawana and Aomame. Tengo, a math teacher and would-be fiction writer, crosses paths with the assassin Aomame, during an investigation into a religious cult. The story’s action takes off when Tengo collaborates with a former cult member, a character called Fuka-Eri, in writing a novella that exposes the cult’s sexual rituals which involve paedophilia. The name of the novella is Air Chrysalis, and much of 1Q84 involves the collaborative writing of Air Chrysalis and the cult’s subsequent hunt for Tengo and Fuka-Eri and later also the hunt for Aomame, who assassinates the cult leader and goes into hiding separately. But this hardly gives the real sense of the work. While the plot generally follows the outline of a straightforward thriller, Murakami’s baroque inventiveness twists the story into the bizarre. It is not simply that the book is set in a world that has two moons in the sky, where Japan has become a kind of police state, and where other “mirror universe” trappings appear, but there are the weird things that happen. The religious cult, for example, is based around a charismatic leader and his connection to “The Little People,” a troop of vaguely menacing Leprechaun-like entities who emerge, the first time we see them, from a dead dog’s mouth and who manipulate people and events.