Monday 17 June 2013

1Q84 Book One

OK, so I was wrong about the goat, but he doesn’t half bang on about her tits, doesn’t he (spoilers, btw)?

The story so far –

My intro and thoughts on the first few chapters are here.

Pep’s intro is here, and his (relatively spoiler free) thoughts on Book One are here. Comments on the second of those appear to be blocked (or just very lazily moderated ;) for some reason…

It would seem to be extremely foolhardy to start second guessing things at barely 1/3rd of the way into the book. So let’s go right ahead and do just that, shall we? Even so, these are more along the lines of disjointed musings and/or discussion prompts (hey, I’m an optimist by nature) than any sort of coherent overview of the first book. I’m hoping something more coherent will emerge as we make progress. Chip in as you like.

All set? Good good.

So then, tits. Clearly Tengo is actually quite frustrated with his life, despite narrative protestations to the contrary. I would actually contend that, as he stands prior to getting all hot and bothered by Fuka-Eri’s summer sweater, Tengo is an archetypal herbivore. Sure, there’s the regular sex with his ‘girlfriend’ but even that conforms to the plan because, if you remember, herbivores aren’t defined by their lack of sex drive so much as their lack of stomach for the messier side of human relations that’s usually indivisible from sex.

              Tengo’s girlfriend was ten years his senior… She took the lead in most of their sexual activity. Tengo simply did as she directed, hardly thinking, making neither choices nor judgments…
              It didn’t work this way when he had sex with younger women. He would have to think from beginning to end, making choices and judgments… He felt like the captain of a small boat on a stormy sea…

Well, you know what they say Tengo me ol’ mate me ol’ mucker: it’s not the size of the boat, it’s the motion of the ocean.

As for the rest, well… Obviously Orwell features quite heavily –

Their world is like the one that George Orwell depicted in his novel.

Not that one. Haruki, get you with your crafty bait-and-switch. One of the more compelling mysteries for me is finding out exactly what has happened to Snowball Fuka-Eri’s dad. He can’t be the ‘Leader’ responsible for Tsubasa’s condition, surely? I’m led to wonder just how reliable a guide the Professor really is. Maybe I wasn’t so wrong about the goat after all. 

That thought also leads me to question just how dependable the dowager is. Apart from Aomame’s dips into the archives, all we really know about what goes on inside Sakigake comes via the Professor and the dowager (and a bit from Ayumi too, I guess). Komatsu is repeatedly at aims to point out how the Professor has his own agenda that may not mesh with that of the main character(s), and given the whole duality/twinned orbits thing that’s obviously going on with the two plot strands it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to assume a similar independent agency for the dowager. Maybe. But I half expect to discover that those two characters are linked at a more tangible level than the thematic. There’s a hell of a lot of money washing about this book, (as you'd expect, given the time period) and you do have to wonder where it’s all coming from.

I should also note that I’m not entirely sure I’m comfortable about how the Tsubasa storyline is going to play out. Gotta have a very good reason for including child abuse in any story, though to be honest you’ve got to have a good reason for including everything you put in a story if you aspire to any sort of competence as a novelist. On a related note I also can’t quite shake the feeling that Tamaki has been rather unceremoniously fridged to provide motivation for one of our primary protagonists. Well, I say protagonist. Aomame has a bit more get up and go than Tengo but that’s not saying much, and she still seems to operate largely at the whim of the dowager. Apart from the occasional gang-bang she doesn’t actually seem to get up to all that much in the way of protagonising. 

I’m hoping this turns out to be another of Murakami’s State of the Nation novels, with the various characters standing in for issues in wider Japanese society. I just can’t figure out exactly how contemporary those issues are meant to be. The slightly excessive listing of designer clothing and health regimes in several of Aomame’s chapters does rather put me in mind of American Psycho, that other classic of the period featuring a ‘killer’ with an apparently shaky grasp on reality, and the whole Sakigake/Aum/Waco affair doesn’t seem especially current (though I feel having previously read Underground might turn out to be pertinent). Unfortunately the subordination of women and girls is still only too applicable.

On a lighter note, and despite her relative lack of personal propulsion, Aomame’s by far my favourite character and the only one who I feel a genuine connection with. Tengo’s just too damn passive (and not a little creepy). Ayumi’s fun but also shares her name with one of my wife’s closet friends, which makes for some awkward mental images, and while Tamaru seems pretty one-dimensional at the moment he has potential.

And finally, to bring it all back round to where we started, am I the only one noticing that Aomame’s dissatisfaction with her lopsided breasts seems to get voiced quite often before she looks at the different sized moons?

P.S. The Little People are fucking terrifying.


  1. Small boat? I'd never consciously thought about it until I read that, but I'd kinda thought of Tengo as well hung.

    The whole passive sex with an older woman is a real Murakami thing, isn't it.

    I realised something freaky the other day. My sister was saying how my son is like Fuka-Eri (in that he writes good shit but has no grasp of grammar, sentence structure etc) and I remembered he had imaginary friends as a kid that he called the little people! They followed him around on their planet.

    1. Well, his girlfriend never seemed to have any complaints during her surprisingly frequent scrotum fondling sessions. To be honest it's only something I noticed as I was typing out that excerpt, and it just seemed like too good a gag to pass up.

      I see you're doing the Fuka-Eri thing with the questionmarkless questions, aren't you.

      As for your son, you weren't members of a commune/cult when your he was little, were you? I think it'll be fine if not ;)

    2. The question markless questions thing (and a few other comments like the explanation of Aomame's name) made me wish I could read the original Japanese.

    3. I'll see what I can rustle up for Book Two ;)

  2. All I know is you and Will's video flashbacks are sending me to happy places...though Will's time jump was to a Happier place...your's was ....well...folks had really big hair :)

    I'm planning on reading this so I'm not reading this :)

    1. Number one on the Billboard charts in January 1984 apparently, so it fits both thematically and chronologically. 'Like a Virgin' seemed wholly inappropriate, and it was either that or 'Ghostbusters'...

      The comment's appreciated even more in the light of the not reading, which seems slightly out of whack but still holds ;)

  3. I have no idea what's going on with the comments. Nothing's in the spam and nothing's waiting for approval. Weird. I was kinda wondering why nobody had said anything.

    I'm trying to decide if boobs attract more commentary than pubic hair, but too lazy to re-read the entire book to keep score. I've got something witty to say about this in my next post tho.

    My favorite part of Book One is Komatsu saying something like "hop on the boat, shoot the rapids, and enjoy the smell of evil." He's probably my favorite character. Ayumi loses points for smoking, but is probably the one I'd most like to be friends with. Not so much Aomame. She's creepy.

    1. Update: comment posting experiments have been successful. Something on your end perhaps?

    2. No joy. Tried at home and work. You're also showing on my blogroll as having last updated 1 year ago, so something's clearly not right somewhere.

      It's a shame, as my line that no-one expects you to have reasons for owning paperbacks doesn't seem half as droll out of context. Bah.

      As for Aomame, I've always been strangely attracted to the quiet and slightly aloof girls. Never had the balls to approach them, of course, but it's all moot now anyway :(

      Ayumi's certainly fun, but I'm not sure the slightly overweight but vivacious best-friend isn't a slightly tired trope. Actually, is she overweight or is she just 'busty'? I'm having a hard time (ahem) not seeing boobs as proxies for pretty much everything right now.

      Vaguely related question, would this book actually pass the Bechdel test? Aomame's conversations with Ayumi all seem to revolve about fucking men, and her conversations with the dowager are about killing them. I'm probably missing something. I hope.

      I await your tits and pubes witticism with bated breath ;)

  4. I'm trying to figure out an answer to your question, and have been since yesterday, and I still don't know. I feel like I should be able to say something insightful, or at least coherent, about gender and sexuality in these books, but I can't. Utterly hopeless.

    I have no idea on Ayumi, but I live in the US. Our view of "plump" is quite a ways off from Japan's. I suppose our view of "busty" is a bit different too.

  5. I'm a bit behind schedule, but here are my first thoughts after finishing Book One today.

    It seems to me that the cab driver functions for Aomame as a guide into the underworld or dreamworld, providing her with Janacek as the "password" to perceive the singular reality, despite appearances. I thought of the various personages Dionysus uses to usher Aschenbach into the state of passion, but this imagery fits Tengo better than it does Aomame, as both Tengo and Aschenbach are writers. Is Fuka-Eri Tengo's Tadzio? Probably not, but it was fun to think about. Now that I think about it, Ayumi leads Aomame into Dionysian excess, but, of course, Aomame wasn't exactly denying herself beforehand. Except that she normally lives and eats very simply.

    Of course, Janacek's Sinfonietta links Aomame and Tengo. Does Aomame enter 1Q84 when Tengo starts writing Fuka-Eri's story? This link between reality and art, both music and literature, interests me a great deal.

    As does the link between memory and identity, both individual and social. Tengo's memory of his mother and the other man. Is it his memory? How could it be? Is it someone else's memory that he has somehow appropriated? Is it, as he begins to wonder, a memory he manufactured in order to believe that his identity is something other than what it appears? Further, what is the relationship between communal identity and social memory? If we as individuals remember events substantively differently from one another, would it be possible for us to identify with each other to a sufficient degree to forge a communal identity? Do we alter our own individual memories to conform with that told by our social groupings in order to be part of the group? What happens if we dissent and say, "No, I remember a different past"?

    I'm also interested in the depiction of religion. Is all religion a cage, from which we all need to liberate ourselves, as Aomame did at the age of ten and as the apparent abuses of Sakigake would indicate? Do the stories religions tell create alternate realities, in the minds of adherents if not in actuality? How is this related to my questions about communal memory?

    In Orwell's 1984, the Ministry of Truth constantly rewrote history so that the citizens' identity was not what they remembered collectively. Their identity was what they were told they remembered. "We've always been at war with Eastasia."

    Sooooooo many delightful and frightening things to think about! What are y'all's thoughts (yeah, I say y'all) on some of my linkages?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. By the way, i agree that there is a connection between Aomame's breasts and the moons. I don't think one of her breasts is greenish, but she does say they're not the same size.

    3. Hi David. Thanks for commenting and welcome along for the ride.

      I love how my opening thoughts on this revolve principally around breasts, cock jokes, and hair metal, whereas you're straight in there with the heavy duty classical references. That's not sarcasm either, I genuinely do love it, but it does rather make me suspect that we're approaching this at somewhat different levels...

      I'm just through with Book Two and it's hard not to let that leak through into my comments here. I'll try to keep it out as much as possible but you might want to come back to this later if you want to remain entirely spoiler free.

      "Does Aomame enter 1Q84 when Tengo starts writing Fuka-Eri's story?"

      Quoted for later reference.

      You're thoughts on memory, communal or otherwise, are very intriguing, and make me wish I had more definite things to say about them. The notion that the must be manufactured, whether collectively or individually, I think's going to turn out to be utterly crucial.

      If asked, I'd say that my own earliest memory is of visiting my mother and newborn sister in hospital, which would make me three and a half so just about feasible, but pushing it. But by this point it's more a memory of a memory, if that makes sense. It was created by me a child but has been rewritten by me as an adult. Sound familiar? To an extent all memories are rewritten, collectively and individually, to both reflect and construct the world around us. Tengo literally does that for Fuka-Eri's memories and the inevitable occurs. I look forward to seeing how you feel about these questions when you're done with the second book :)

  6. I'm even more behind schedule now than I was last week. I finished Book 2 last night. Book 2 certainly narrows the field of my questions.

    Except for occasional rehearsals of what has happened so far in the story, I love the style. I like the repetition of certain words or images in different contexts, like the word "vacuum" that pops up regularly after Tengo's visit to his father, portending something new coming into existence after the old has passed away.

    Does the word appear before then? I'm not sure. I'll have to search the text to see. //searches text, making certain not to pay any attention to results from Book 3// Why, yes it does. The vacuum of the moon preserves memories. The emotion of the husband of Tengo's lover might be acting as a vacuum as he tells Tengo she is "irretrievably lost" (another recurring phrase after that). Then it's vacuum, vacuum, vacuum, vacuum in regard to Tengo's conception and birth. In that exchange, it is said that "the vacuum and [Tengo's] memories are still at odds" and that the vacuum might just Hoover up Tengo's conflicting memories, which doesn't square with the vacuum of the moon preserving memories. After that there's the vacuum left by Leader's death. Tengo submerges himself into a mental vacuum. There's no guarantee that the original Japanese uses the same word each time the English word "vacuum" is used in the translation, but it seems there's enough correlation of themes. And I like that kind of stuff.

    Even though Aomame seems to have some residual belief that pops up when things get tough, the religious themes kind of peter out in Book 2. Maybe they will resurface in Book 3, but it seems that the religious themes surrounding Sakigake are simply a smokescreen for the magical stuff going on. There's no real exploration of the connection between memory and religion or religion and reality or any of the other stuff I had wondered about in Book 1. And that's okay. That was my interest, not necessarily the author's.

    Of course, we know now that there is a connection between Aomame arriving in 1Q84 and Tengo's writing. I do like the idea that reality is shaped by art. It makes me wonder how Perceiver and Receiver have been shaping reality in the past. (I'm reminded of The Lathe of Heaven in which a man's dreams reshape reality, which someone tries to take advantage of by influencing his dreams.)

    Random question. Do I recall correctly that it was revealed that Eriko (not yet Fuka-Eri) shows up at the Professor's with evidence of sexual molestation? Leader seems to indicate that only the dohta's have sex with him. Did the dohta run away rather than the "real" Eriko? She has some of the markers. But that doesn't completely make sense. Do the dohtas fade always away over time, like the little girl the dowager was going to adopt? Can't recall exactly.

    While I am certainly enjoying the book, I must say I was more excited about the possibilities Book 1 opened than I am about where Book 2 has led. Perhaps Book 3 will change that.

    1. Apologies for the appalling slackness of this response. I'm assuming that by now your well into book 3?

      If so you'll know that the religious themes are back with a vengence, but for some reason I don't really seeing this as being about religion. I'm still not sure what exactly it is about, but not that. The vacuum thing is interesting because it's absences that seem to mark so much stuff. Tengo and Aomame both share absences (childhoods, parents), and Fuka-Eri is obviously clearly missing something. You could extend that list indefinitely, I reckon.

      I'd be interested to see what you make of the Receiver/Perceiver paradigm, because try as I might it's about the only thing I can't strong arm into some sort of (however vague) coherent cosmology for the book. I just have no idea what that's meant to be about. More so than normal, at any rate...