Sunday, 15 January 2012

1Q84 Review - Q & A with Yours Truly (Part Three of Three)

I'm back for one final post on Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 (a post which contains plot details some of you may not want to know!), and it seems that my inner voice has a couple more questions for me...

That's right.  Here's one for you to ponder - is 1Q84 finished?
Now that's probably one you weren't expecting ;)  The easy answer to this is simply to say that of course it's finished.  Murakami has written a three-volume novel (very like the Victorians he admires), and that's the end of the matter.  While it would have been a little strange if the story had ended abruptly at the end of Book Two, with Tengo and Aomame finally together, away from the parallel world of 1Q84, we have what passes for a happy ending.

Even if you disagree that the end of Book Three represents an adequate ending, Murakami's previous works will provide evidence to the contrary.  Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, two of his most famous (and substantial) works are every bit as surreal and confusing as 1Q84, and their endings are just as ambiguous and open to interpretation.  Murakami is not known for wrapping things up in a neat bow (even Norwegian Wood, his most 'normal' book, ends in an unsatisfying manner), so why should we expect things to be tied up neatly here?

You would also think that Murakami himself is thoroughly over the book by now.  He's a man of many interests, a writer who bounces between long novels, short stories, works of non-fiction, essays and translations, not exactly a good sign for anyone expecting him to devote more of his remaining years to one particular book.  And anyway, if Book Four was in the pipeline, wouldn't we have heard about it by now?

So why am I even asking (myself!) the question?  Simply because, to me at least, 1Q84, seems unfinished.  There are just too many loose threads, even by Murakami's messy standards, stories which need to be explored further.  Characters like Fuka-Eri, Tamaru and the Dowager have been left up in the air, waiting for their cue to return to the stage.  The lack of cohesion which I mentioned in an earlier post could also be easily explained by the fact that there is more to come, further volumes which will pull these strands together.

One of the reasons I gave above against a sequel was that Aomame and Tengo had finally found each other, closing the gap which was providing the tension for the novel.  But if you recall, there are a couple of details which indicate that this may not be the case.  Aomame is carrying a baby, a child which could be of vital importance to the Sakigake group, and they are unlikely to just give up on her (especially as they are still chasing her for Leader's murder...).

There is also the small hint given at the end of the novel that the lovers have not actually succeeded in returning to the real world, but have entered a third world (1X84?!), which surely gives material for a continuation.  Also, if there's another volume, we may even find out what exactly the little people are actually all about - surely there must be more to them than meets the eye...

You're probably unconvinced (and rightly so) - it's unlikely to ever happen.  However, there is one more small piece of evidence from the text, one last crumb of comfort I'm taking from 1Q84.  When Aomame is lying low in her new apartment, Tamaru brings her some reading material to the pass the time.  It was, of course, Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time - all seven volumes of it.  Now if that's not a sign, I don't know what is...

You're not getting away that easily.  You've talked a lot of rubbish about the book, but you still haven't committed yourself - did you like 1Q84?
I really am tough on myself :(

Did I like 1Q84?  Of course I did :)  Although there are a few exceptions out there, I think that most people who like Murakami's work will get a lot out of 1Q84.  It may not have lived up to the hype (which, for regular readers at least, seemed to be up there with the return of Star Wars), but it's a welcome addition to the Murakami canon.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and will be adding it to my collection at some point for a later reread (the three-volume Australian edition pictured has, alas, now returned to the library - it was brand-new too...).  And, let's face it, if I hadn't liked it, I would hardly have spent countless hours writing a series of reviews which has finally stretched to six separate posts :)

One final point I'd like to make, one I touched on in another post, is that while 1Q84 is one book, for me it is best seen as a series of separate works - and should be read as such.  I raced through each of the books in a couple of days, but I actually gave myself a couple of days between each of the parts, going away and reading something else.  In this way, I think I avoided some of the frustration many readers have expressed about Book Two (probably the weakest of the three).  In fact, my wishes for paperback versions of 1Q84 would be three separate books, all with the Vintage UK black, white and red covers, novels which will slot neatly into my Murakami shelf... be followed by any possible sequels.  We can but dream :)