Wednesday 3 July 2013


(June 2013)

Well now. That was a hell of a ride, wasn’t it?

Spoilers to follow, of course.

In an attempt to avoid, or at least ameliorate, my usual habit of picking excessively at nits, I’ll open with what must sadly stand as my best attempt at explain exactly what it is about this book, and Murakami’s work in general, that I like so much. I think it’s a question of balance; the scales all pivot very precisely around a central point which marks almost exactly what I want as a reader. It’s a dynamic sort of equilibrium, to be sure, but none of the arms marked Character, Imagery, or Plot ever seem to be too lightly weighted, or excessively heavily in comparison to the others.

That arm marked Plot is a tricksy one though. If you want to define plot as ‘a sequence of things that happen’ then this is going to come as a bit of a disappointment. After following Tengo and Aomame through six hundred pages of story, they spend the first third of Book Three essentially just sitting separate rooms. Indeed, until we reach the dénouement it seems that sitting in a room on her own is destined to be Aomame’s eternal fate – isolated in her apartment gazing from her window in a manner that should remind us of Juliet, but often veers uncomfortably close to Bertha Mason. Tengo is not the east, and it’s the moon we’re interested in here, not the sun. Lunacy, mad women in the attic. Run with that as you will.

However, if you define plot as ‘a progression of changes that drive the narrative’ then this works just fine. It’s not quite as compelling as the first two books, but it eventually comes together beautifully.

Warm sunlight streamed down on the withered lawn, as if rewarding it…

If the last book was about trains, then this is about boxes: as mentioned, Aomame spends pretty much the entire book in the same one; Komatsu’s only significant contribution is to recount the time he spent in one; Tengo largely just shuffles between two more. Tengo’s father starts off in one of those and ends up in a much, much smaller one all of his own, and Ushikawa’s journey is largely the same with the added tragedy that for the first half of the book he’s essentially the only character with any freedom of movement at all.

Ushikawa then. Bobblehead. Sometimes authors try to get all clever clever like and set themselves up with a character so fundamentally unsympathetic in every way that the reader can’t help but be utterly repelled, just for the challenge of turning that perception around. I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. I think Ushikawa is an extension of those preemptive rebukes Murakami was aiming at his critics in Book Two. Ushikawa is the (literally) ugly pragmatist. The one who gives us both movement and answers. The one who strips away the mystery and the question marks. Thanks to Ushikawa we know both the dowager’s and Aomame’s full names, and I can’t help but feel slightly poorer for it. I can handle the truth, but I’m not convinced I ever really wanted it.

And now a slightly embarrassing confession. Despite spending a goodly proportion of my working life dealing with the very direct consequences of katakana pronunciation, it wasn’t until Tengo’s hazily unconsummated assignation with The Maiden that I realized what maza and dohta actually meant. If anyone wants to pop around to repossess my pseud’s card I guess I can have no complaints. Let me try and rescue the situation by banging on about trios for a bit.

Because once Tengo parties with the Triple Goddess in the cat town* you start looking for echoes everywhere, and kinda sorta finding them. The dowager, Aomame, Fuka-Eri, say. Aomame and Fuka-Eri are pretty interchangeable in the Maiden and Mother roles, so you have to wonder exactly how fixed the Crone is as well. Artemis is the maiden, the goddess of the hunt, and Selene is the mother, goddess of the moon. Hecate, the crone, is goddess of crossroads and was apparently worshipped as a household protector. See where this is going?

The ‘male’ equivalent of the Triple goddess is, of course, the Holy Trinity. Tengo’s clearly the Son, and it can’t be just coincidence that the living ghost of his comatose Father puts the willies up all three of our main characters. But if the father’s the Ghost, who’s The Father?

Well, Tengo’s working a double shift here as well, but if you’ll excuse me I’d like to try to float something that’ll probably sink without trace, but will at least amuse me in the meantime.

Tamaru? Maybe it’s a stretch, but he did say he’s got a son he’s never met, and the way he deals with Ushikawa is remarkable similar to the way we eventually discover Tengo’s mother died. If we can still hold to the belief that the man Tengo calls ‘father’ isn’t his biological father (because it makes as much sense as anything else at this point) then why not? What to make of Kumi’s claim to have already died by strangulation, which brings the total of young women to have snuffed it in such a fashion to, of course, three?

Is Tamaru God? I told you he had potential. The fluctuation of time-frames is even more noticeable than in Book Two and it’s clearly no coincidence that Tamaru is the one pushing Proust on Aomame, and his final intervention is just a touch deus ex machina.

Cold or not, God is present.

Well, maybe not God, but there are times when he’s very clearly the Author Insert, and in a fictional world like this the author is God. He’s the only character whose full name we never find out, and names for god are not to be uttered.

And finally, this was top of the Billboard chart in December 1984. I would probably have included it anyway, just for that. It’s not quite Janáček, but what with Aomame’s condition I really couldn’t pass it up. Enjoy.

*That’s a sentence you could only ever write in reference to a Haruki Murakami book.

ETA: Pep's been nice enough to collect everything connected to this little dalliance here.


  1. Madonna was something to look at once....that time has been gone a loooong time. Nice vid though ;)

    1. Loooong time ago for all of us, sad to say :(

  2. So I've totally fallen off the train here. The book is long finished, but I've been unable to write for all sorts of inexcusable reasons. Gonna start tonight though, and will probably use this as a springboard. I'm glad you thought up the trio bit, because it never occurred to me.

    1. Glad to have you back. I can sympathise on the time pressures, and I imagine this would be challenging enough to get your head round at the best of times...

  3. CALLED or not God is present. Murakami misheard the true quote.

    1. Murakami's mistake, or the character's?

      Yeah, you're probably right. Murakami's.

      Thanks for the comment and the fact-check ;)