Friday 7 June 2013

1Q84 Readalong

This is How She Fight Start in conjunction with Two Dudes in an Attic is proud to present for a limited time only and in glorious Technicolor our briefly awaited and barely anticipated 1Q84 readalong. That’s right folks, June is Murakami Month here on TIHSFS; it’s like Shark Week except without the blood and gore and perfectly evolved and adapted prehistoric predators and lengthy panning shots of the majestic and untamable oceanic depths. And it’s a month, not a week. So it’s like Shark Week in that it’s a pair of nouns.

(It’s all going to be like this, by the way.)

This book is, to be blunt, a chunky motherfucker. I’ve got this edition which is just a gorgeous object to have, but a touch unwieldy. I love the multiple frontispieces and the mirror-image offsetting of the page numbers (below), but there are over 900 of those so part of me would be really interested in a digital edition if it didn’t mean paying even more than for the actual book. Given that lugging this about on the commute isn’t going to be an option it’ll be a bit slower going than normal, so here’s the plan –

Today you get a bit of a warm up and some preliminary thoughts, then for the next few weeks I’ll be trying to stick a post up every Monday (except this coming one. Gotta get into the swing of things. I’ll give you a picture of a cake if you ask nicely). There’ll be spoilers for the first few chapters a little lower down in this post, which I’ll flag up ‘cos I’m nice like that, but obviously from there on out all the other posts will be spoiling (spoilering?) the fuck out of their relevant sections indiscriminately and without warning. If you’ve already read it then I’d love for you to chip in, but please try to avoid being a dick with comments like, “Oh, wait until you get to the wedding. It’s all so very red.”

The Japanese version was originally published in three separate volumes (above) which would seem to make for convenient goalposts; one ‘book’ a week. That should take us through to July 1st, and then maybe a wrap up post as well if we’re not all thoroughly sick of it by then. OK? Well, tough. My house, my rules.

I’ve not read a huge amount of Haruki Murakami, to be honest. I went through Norwegian Wood and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle before I came to Japan the first time, so that’s a dozen years or so ago now. Since then I’ve read After Dark (so-so), The Elephant Vanishes (don’t remember much. More lost cats and wells, I think), Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (phenomenal. Incomprehensible for large parts, but phenomenal) and, with a particularly creepy kink to the timing, Underground.

So I’m certainly not a completist, and I’m completely unfamiliar with most of his newer stuff, but there’s enough there to start noticing some themes and drawing some conclusions. In a previous discussion on a web forum (before I swore off them all as the untrammeled oceans of bile, prejudice, and ignorance that they are) I saw someone describing Murakami as giving them ‘literary blue-balls’, which is something I can certainly appreciate. I’m fully expecting this to be more about the journey than the destination. The start hasn’t done anything to disabuse me of that notion. On which note,

Spoilers through to chapter 6 to follow…

Is it just me, or is the opening to this book all a little bit, well… sleazy? It’s not Aomame’s one night stand with the salaryman – we’ve all got to get our jollies somehow – but more things like the repeated focus on the length of her skirt and (lack of) cleavage, the teenage Sapphic experimentation, nipples like olives, etc etc. Coupled together with Tengo’s earliest memory, affair with a married woman, and his hyper-awareness of Fuka-Eri’s physique – she’s apparently a high school student, remember – it all feels just a wee bit sordid. So when Fuka-Eri mentions the ‘Professor’ you do immediately start to wonder about the nature of that relationship, and that it might not be entirely wholesome.

Aomame’s confusion about the police uniforms is the first really signature Murakami motif (not the classical music, that’s not a motif. That’s just a thing), and the nice little mention of the US/Russian moon-base starts to place us very firmly into the alternative history/magical realism order of things. Though I’m thinking that ‘kill spot’ at the back of the head is just as much of a fiction. Also nice to see an early appearance for an overly detailed account of a man preparing food. Stick with what you know, eh?

Is it just co-incidence that since the turn of the year I’ve read two other books relating to unusually young women winning the Akutagawa prize?* One of these, The Book of Human Insects, deals with the main character plagiarizing her roommate’s work, and her roommate subsequently commiting suicide (Insects, Chrysalis, hmmm…). And the other one, Snakes and Earrings, really is an Akutagawa Prize winner written by an unusually young female author. For all that Tengo’s chapters are already on (or perhaps slightly off) track with the nagging sense of dislocation Murakami does so well, the actual storyline appears to be pretty well grounded in real-life events. Thus far at least.

The ‘Professor’ is going to be the goat, isn’t it.

*Yes. Yes it is.


  1. Fine idea, and enjoy, but I'm Murakamied out for this incarnation.

    1. I think he's a wonderful writer, but as per the 'blue balls' line above I certainly get that he's not without frustrations.

      Feel free to heckle from the sidelines. It appears the allusions to Orwell feature quite heavily (the clue's in the title, I guess) and I know you're all about George ;)

  2. So did you go outside and double check there wasn't two moons?

    And yeah, the Fuka-Eri stuff, it's creepy. And then he's going on about how he doesn't see her sexually but that's balls. I'm not sure if that's meant to be like he's deluding himself or if it's just a Japanese thing - ie. not being able to look at schoolgirl without seeing her as sexed up.

    1. Not got to the moons bit yet.

      By this point I'm as certain as I can be that Murakami knows exactly what he's doing with mood and subtexts. I'm just not always certain that I know what he knows he's doing, is all...

  3. I'm debating the best way to respond to this. Maybe I'll write up something similar over the weekend, though I'm a little bit ahead of you now. (I take the thing on my commute, which is either bad for my back or good at building triceps.)

    As far as sleazy stuff, it gets both better and worse, in ways both hilarious and uncomfortable. Murakami has to know exactly what he's doing here, though I'm uncertain what the final point of it is.

    1. As you like. I'm obviously further on now than when I wrote this, so hurrah for the swinging bum-sex and all that. A final point would be nice but again, I'm trying to keep my expectations in check on that score. We'll see.

      I'll put some Book One thoughts up next Monday (17th), unless you've got any better suggestions. Flexibility is very much the watchword here, I think :)

    2. Every conversation with Ayumi is gold. I also enjoy Komatsu a great deal.

      I'm going to try to get something about Book One out in the next couple of days, kids etc. allowing. In other news, it seems we have a third member, though he doesn't seem to have posted a comment here yet.

  4. I couldn't get past page 17 or so. It felt overwritten, full of dull exposition. But I got it out from the library, so maybe if I had invested the cash in it, I might have invested the time. Or my attention span is shot to hell. Blame twitter. I can't stand it when it takes three tweets to get a point across. Or something. Anyway, good luck with it.

    1. Overwritten? That's interesting, because for me thus far the defining feeling has been one of this essential blankness at the core of it all. I don't know how to express it any better as yet. And I guess it's not mutually exclusive from 'overwritten' but I've not got that from it.

      Blaming twitter is usually a safe option. That or video games. Or rock music. Or, or, or...