“Who switched the tracks?”“Who switched the tracks? That is another difficult question. The logic of cause and effect has little power here.”
Just in case you were in any doubt.
Here’s the now traditional recap/spoiler buffer.
Trains, then. Tracks and trains. Rainy season has belatedly kicked in in Japan, and as I found myself whiling away the commute on a delayed train I realized just how heavily they featured in this book. Almost as much as boobs and nipples, which I shall, somewhat unavoidably, be addressing later.
I realize I can be appallingly self-referential with the links I slap in these posts, but I really do think it would be of benefit here if you’d have a quick look at this, where I broach my theory that Japanese society is very much like a rail network. If nothing else it might help make what follows seem slightly less disjointed.
So what do we have regarding the trains? Aomame and Leader’s conversation above, obviously. Tengo decides – or rather he realizes he has already decided – to visit his ‘father’ whilst in a train station, and on the journey he reads about the Town of Cats (‘Lost cats?’ ‘Check.’), which is of course accessed only by train. And subsequent to Aomame’s appointment with Leader the thunderstorm disrupts the lines to the point where the regular denizens of Tokyo are stranded in a place where they are largely anonymous and unable to leave. Plus there are all the fun and games in the final two chapters.
The concatenation of time also lends itself (albeit a bit less convincingly) to the train track analogy. Time travels forward at a very uneven pace in each plot strand, like express trains on the same line passing each other at different stations. Aomame’s meeting with Leader only takes a few hours yet occurs in parallel with chapters spanning weeks of Tengo’s storyline, and it’s only the thunderstorm which anchors both in the same place at the same time. Kind of like both are finally arriving at a main hub station, if not a terminal.
And what occurs during the storm? Death and fucking, of course. What else could it have been?
I am going to defer comment on Fuka-Eri until I’m completely done with all three books, and possibly beyond. I’ve got no idea. Good art should confuse and unsettle, but I’m really not sure about any of this. Her conversation with Tengo about his dearth of ‘intercourse’ is quite hilariously awkward –
Fuka-Eri stared straight at Tengo again for some time. She seemed to be having some kind of thoughts about intercourse. What she was actually thinking about, no one could say.
And then we get the actual intercourse which… just…. I don’t…
You could, without stretching credulity too far, make a case that Tengo was raped. He’s paralyzed and unable to give consent. Raped by a sterile, pubeless, schoolgirl with ‘fully ripe’ breasts ‘uninfluenced by the force of gravity’. Shamefully, I think I’ve seen that movie. Or at least seen the cover; I doubt you’d have to expend too much effort to find examples of similar stuff in the ‘Adult’ section of any Japanese DVD store.
Which is why I said in my post on Book One that I hope this is, at least in part, a State of The Nation novel. It’s entirely possible that I’m looking to undeservedly excuse Murakami from some fairly unpleasant accusations, but the sexualisation of girls – and it is girls – in Japan is clearly all kinds of fucked up (disclaimer) and I’d hope that, in a way I admit to not fully grasping, that’s what’s being addressed here. I think Pep’s suggestion that Murakami is looking to make his readers complicit in this is definitely worth consideration.
Because here’s the really unsettling thing. If we are willing to accept that Tengo was raped due to his paralysis and inability to consent, then we should surely also conclude that, if we also believe what Leader says about his ‘condition’, the same is true for him as well. I have absolutely no idea how to continue following that train of thought, nor am I particularly sure I want to.
Moving on to the slightly lighter stuff, we have a couple of wonderfully pugnacious examples of Murakami getting his retaliation in first –
…we are left in a pool of mysterious question marks. This may well be the intention, but many people are likely to take this lack of clarification as a sign of ‘authorial laziness.’ …if the author intends to have a long career as a writer, in the near future she may well need to explain her deliberately cryptic posture.
And on that note, here’s a side-by-side of Tengo’s first conversation with Fuka-Eri. I would dearly love to believe that the Fuka-Eri’s shtick with the question markless questions exists pretty much solely as a preemptive dig at anyone who might complain that this book contains ‘too many question marks’. Hope the pictures are sufficiently HD for you to read, if you’re that way inclined. Click on them to make them larger.
And here, also by popular request, is the explanation for Aomame’s name in the Japanese version. The point at which she and Tengo start using each other’s names when thinking about each other – as opposed to just ‘the boy’ or ‘the girl’ – does seem to mark some sort of definite shift. I’m not sure of what, in just the same way I wasn’t sure whether Aomame is her given or family name (though in the Japanese below it’s made clear it’s her surname). Everyone else gets the full dose of both names, but still not her. More grist to the mill of the theory that Tengo’s writing this world, perhaps.
Interestingly, Tamura and Aomame’s discussion about Chekov’s Gun has exactly the opposite result; the open discussion of the narrative device completely negates its impact. She has a gun, but whether she’ll use it or not is wholly up in the air in a way it wouldn’t have been in a more traditional story with less genre-savvy characters. And yeah, the introduction of a gun has significant implications. I’m British, so I still get slightly freaked out by the sight of uniformed police officers carrying firearms. Can’t help but feel that if that’s become both the norm and necessary then something’s gone very badly wrong in your society at quite a fundamental level. While that’s obviously a bit of a pop at our American cousins on my part it also ties into the weapons upgrade the police in 1Q84 got at the start of Book One. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
For all that it seems that I’m almost exclusively finding fault in these books it should be noted that when my train is delayed this is what I find myself doing; thinking about them and turning the angles over and over in my mind instead of playing with my iphone or reading my smaller, more portable ‘commute’ book. Many other people have previously used the immersive, coming up for air metaphor before in regard to Murakami and it is utterly, completely, entirely justified. On to Book Three…