Guest review: Andrew Wrathall on 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Harvill Secker, 2011
9781846555497
(hardcover, ebook: books 1 & 2book 3

by Andrew Wrathall

Aomame is warned: ‘Things are not what they seem,’ before she leaves a taxi on a backed-up freeway in Japan and walks down an emergency stairway, which causes her to slip out of 1984 and into the alternate reality of 1Q84. Aomame is a gym instructor, who has lived alone since leaving her family of doomsday proselytizers as a girl. She is also contracted to kill the husbands of women who’ve escaped domestic violence.

There’s also Tengo, a mathematics teacher at a cram school, whose love for literature leads him on a dubious path as a ghostwriter. While reading manuscripts for a literary award, Tengo is intrigued by the story Air Chrysalis, written by a strange young girl called Fuka-Eri. When asked to rewrite the story, the offer is far too compelling to turn down. The rewritten book wins the literary award and becomes a bestseller, with the media lapping-up the story of Fuka-Eri as a gifted 17-year-old emerging writer.

Fuka-Eri’s story is about mysterious beings known only as the Little People, who enter the world through the mouth of a dead goat. The metaphysical Little People are a manipulative entity with an unknown agenda and originally exist as fiction within Fuka-Eri’s novel, then later appear within the world of 1Q84.

Murakami’s idea of the Little People, as an invisible and malevolent controlling force, is juxtaposed against the idea of Big Brother from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four, as the totalitarian force that causes people to rewrite history so often that they forget which history is the true history. One character says that upon arriving at the year 1984, ‘There’s no longer any place for a Big Brother in this real world of ours,’ because Big Brother would be too obvious to people since the concept is universal. The Little People, however, are unheard of, and can easily remain hidden.

The characters identify the world as an alternate reality by the change in news stories which places the cult of Sagikake into the world, and by the appearance of two moons—a large one and a smaller moss-green one.

The three-part book is an epic 925 pages and is a slow-going read, but rewards the reader with richly painted scenes that border between the real and surreal. At times Murakami’s fantasy elements can seem incomprehensible, but readers should allow the narrative to unfold rather than attempt to decrypt the fantasy. Readers may question whether the original Japanese had other meanings, but certainly the prose in the translation (by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel) is flawless.

The story contains an adolescent connection between the main characters that drives the plot as a love story. There are sexual depictions that tread the line between erotic and disturbing. While Aomame is a tough and highly sexual character, she can easily be seen as an action hero born of male fantasy.

The narrative contains stories within stories, which inwardly explain the direction of the plot, then outwardly and self-reflexively reveal the motives of Murakami in writing the narrative. For example, Tengo explains why he thinks Anton Chekhov went to Sakhalin Island in Japan, as though Murakami were explaining why he created the world of 1Q84.

Murakami most likely bases Tengo on himself. Aomame at one point says, ‘Are you telling me that I was transported to this other world of 1Q84 by Tengo’s storytelling ability […] ?’, which can be viewed as a metafictional reference to the author.

In reference to Air Chrysalis the story reads, ‘Her readers followed along, very naturally adopting her point of view, and before they knew it, they were in another world—a world that was not this world,’ which could refer to the readers of 1Q84.

Murakami also seems like he is mocking the literary community when he writes sentences like, ‘More than a few of the reviewers seemed perplexed by—or simply undecided about—the meaning of the air chrysalis and the Little People [...] “we are left in a pool of mysterious question marks. This may well be the author’s intention”.’

There are few references to Japanese ideas within the book, but very many Western references, which may be designed to appeal to Murakami’s Western audience. 1Q84 does appeal to a wide audience, but the fantasy may scare some mainstream readers away.

Andrew Wrathall is publishing assistant at Bookseller+Publisher and enjoys a quick trip to fantasy-land via the pages of a book before bed.

Guest post: Andrew Wrathall interviews Charlaine Harris, the author behind True Blood

Charlaine Harris’ successful Sookie Stackhouse series is the basis of the addictive TV series True Blood. Harris is touring Australia in September (Sydney and Melbourne) as a guest at Hub Production’s True Blood events, on the 25th and 26th of September and will then be doing a book tour for Hachette. Number 10 in the Sookie series Dead in the Family is published by Gollancz in June. Season 3 of True Blood will screen on Showcase in August.

True Blood fan and Bookseller+Publisher publishing assistant Andrew Wrathall asked Harris a few questions for LiteraryMinded

Pictured below: Charlaine Harris
(photo by Christina Radish)

How did the character of Sookie Stackhouse come about?

I was in a slump, and decided to attempt to change my career. Instead of writing conventional mysteries, I thought it would be fun to write a novel with paranormal elements. I decided to write a book about a young woman who decided to date a vampire, and I built her character around that. Everything flowed from that one central concept.

When your books were adopted to television as True Blood, how much say did you have on the direction the television series took? Were you happy with Alan Ball’s vision, and Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer’s interpretation of the characters?

My input lay in writing the books. After that, I knew the wise course was to let Alan’s expertise and experience take over. From our conversations, I knew Alan was tuned into the feel and tone of the books, and since his genius lies in casting, I trusted him. I think Anna and Stephen are fantastic in their roles.

Are you ever inspired by other writers of bit-lit (vampire literature), such as Anne Rice, Laurell K. Hamilton or even Stephenie Meyer? And have you met any of these writers?

Anne Rice and I exchange emails, and I know she’s a great fan of the show. I do know Laurell, and we have a friendly relationship. I’ve never met Stephenie Meyer, who has said repeatedly that she does not read other writers in the genre. I’d like to think we all lend each other some energy in our works.

The books are written from the first person perspective of Sookie; the television series has extra storylines featuring other characters in Sookie’s world (and extended ones, such as Lafayette). Has this been an interesting experience, as a writer, to see other dimensions given to characters you created?

Oh, it’s been fascinating. Obviously, the series has to delve into the background of some of the other characters so Anna won’t have to be on-screen all the time, and I love not knowing what I’m going to see next.

Reading your books there seem to be many analogies of real-world issues in relation to vampire concepts, such as gay persecution (intolerance of vampires), or drug addiction (drinking blood), or male violence (the violent nature of vampires). How conscious was your decision to include issues – or is it more a way of rooting fantastical concepts in a world recognisable to the reader?

Both.

After a successful mystery-romance-vampire series, what’s next?

I have written the Harper Connelly books, which have been quite successful, though not on the scale of Sookie. I think I’m going to try something completely different when I have some time. I love writing the Sookie books, but it’s always good to write something else, too.

Are you looking forward to coming to Australia in September?

I am SO looking forward to it.