Friday, December 16, 2011

1Q84 discussion number 1 SPOILER ALERT

Anybody who would like to discuss, please join. We will be talking about the book so if you want to read it and don't want to find out stuff, then don't be a dickhead and read these posts?

I'm up to Chapter 12, Part 2 page 451. Alex has finished Part One (and since commenting has maybe steamed ahead.) So for the discussion below, let's focus to the end of Part 1, to page 309 in the copy from Readings.


I've got a collection of scrippy scrappy bits of notes I've made over the time I've been reading this. I don't usually make notes when I read books unless it's something useful for me as a writer and which helps me in my process in some way. Recently a writerly friend said she is always a reader first when she reads, but I think I'm sometimes a writer, especially if what I'm reading is flawed enough to jerk me out of the story. This is probably the major problem with published writing, books that I've paid money for. My message to authors: don't jerk me out of the writing. 'Don't be a jerk like that,' I say. And then they probably say 'but I didn't mean to,' and 'nobody else said it jerked them out of the text, so maybe you're the fucking jerk.' And then I don't say anything back, because maybe they are right.



Yesterday I was at my old work 's farewell for me and another two people. And after we'd had the speeches, after I'd made my pretty awesome speech, and we'd had little cakes and cut up fruit, mini mince pies and cups of tea, I was in a huddle with some readers and I said that I thought 1Q84 was one of the best books I'd ever read.

I do have to qualify this of course. I have to break it down, because as I intimated above, what is great for me might not be for others, and vice versa. Of course, this is how the world works. And I also have to qualify it by saying that my adult reading teeth were cut on books like Dick Francis's horse books and Robert Ludlum's action man, high-octane thrillers.


The first thing I wrote in my notes about this book was:

There's something lovely about the word 'Air' when used in the title of the book, as in Air Chrysalis.

I don't quite know why I wrote this, but I did. I still believe it though, it fascinates me.

I've also got written:

Lacked editing? couple of repeats of information as 'new to reader' eg Tengo's father's job of NHK subscription collector.

I also noticed all the references to the female characters' breasts - large or small. I'm wondering whether this will become relevant later, like the NHK subscription collector but I wonder. I wonder what that's about.

The thing though that grabbed me right from the outset, in the first few pages, was Aomame getting out of a taxi in gridlocked traffic and climbing down a ladder off the side of the freeway to the road below. Something happened time-wise or dimension-wise during that climb down, and while it was hinted at by her noticing anomalies in a police officer's uniform and gun, and while it's also been suggested by later references to two moons in the sky (something else that intrigues me in a really primal way: moons and air, love it) it hasn't been disclosed in any greater detail up until where I've read now. And there haven't been too many more hints (that I could see, Alex?) so I love that light touch. There's no Ludlum here.

Once Aomame climbed down that ladder, and got onto the street and to her appointment (where she murdered a man, a bad man) I knew this wouldn't be one of the books that I would put down mid-way and pick up something else to read in tandem. I knew I would be living and breathing this book from those first pages until the end, unless something major happened to stop me (ie the arrival of aliens in the mid-section or something like that, could still happen folks.)


On page 200 of my copy, we are told:

' "This is the end," Fuka-Eri informed him in a whisper. Time stopped, and the world ended. The earth ground slowly to a halt, and all sound and light vanished. '

It's biblical in its pronouncements, yet simple writing. I thought it was a good description of how the world would or could end, not with a bang but a whimper, like a merry-go round slowing down to a stop and all the carnival lights going out. I like this imagery, the idea of the world (which does spin) slowing down, grinding to a halt. There'd be sound as well, a kind of groaning and possibly some squealing brake noises.

On page 215 the idea is introduced that humans are just 'carriers' for genes and that genes are knowing a ruthless. "They don't care whether we are happy or unhappy. We're just a means to an end for them."

This is the type of thinking that I love. I had never thought something like this before but in an instant I saw the truth, or possible truth, in it. I once knew a guy, he was a close friend, and he would say things like this. For me, it was amazing knowing him, because every conversation was filled with pearls like the one above. I wish I still knew him; his brain and his type of thinking were both massive and rich and he's the only person in the world I've known who has such a different way of looking at absolutely everything.

On page 223 we are told that Bun the German Shepherd (and this is again, the second or even third time) "For some reason, she liked to eat raw spinach." Like a reminder BUT as if it's the first mention. Again, I don't know whether this is sloppy editing, sloppy writing or deliberate. Is the ms too big for the author to manage? Is it that the author knew it would be a big book to read and so the reader would need little reminders? But why innocuous things like this? I don't know.


Page 249 when Little People come out of Tsubasa's mouth while she's asleep.

Up until now there have been references to the Little People, a few mentions, but it's been entirely possible until now that the Little People are just figments of deranged brains, or fictional characters in the book Air Chrysalis, which has been dictated by a strange possibly damaged 17-year-old girl Fuka-Eri (who has beautiful large breasts we are told, repeatedly, from the narrative of Tengo the writer.)

Now I've got a note: too many references to female characters' breasts. Aomame's = small ones, Fuka-Eri's = big ones. Every chapter these characters are in, there is guaranteed mention of their breasts.

Page 260 - 261

I've written 'Tengo is reading Chekhov's Sakhalin aloud to Fuka-Eri in the middle of the night. She becomes fascinated by the Gilyaks = the indigenous people Chekhov wrote about, the first time on p260 her speech is written with a question mark (before this, it had been noted by Tengo that her speech was peculiar and flat, short sentences spoken without question marks. Again, this repetition I noticed and it bothered me and could have jerked me out but because everything else was so gripping, I let go). Then on page 261 we have exclamation marks from Fuka-Eri - 'The poor Gilyaks!' [she] said. 'The wonderful Gilyaks!' She feels compassion for these people, I am entranced by the side story of how they would travel their land ignoring roads that had been laid down, walking parallel to the roads through difficult treed terrain.

Chekhov and his Gilyaks come into the story again later, and it makes me wonder about this and other types of criss-crossing between the two main narratives. (A bit about the structure of the book. Each character gets a chapter and a point of view. Tengo is one, and Aomame is the other. We get one chapter from him, from his POV and then one chapter from her and her POV. The book started with Aomame in the taxi. I have read the book without stopping mid-chapter, something has made me want to keep regular in my reading but also, I just can't stop reading mid chapter because the story is carrying me along in a way I haven't been carried before (shades of Ludlum in this.) Also, the way Murakami end chapters, he will stop mid-scene and not adhere to the [conventional?] narrative arc where each chapter should have its own natural rise and fall, beginning middle and end. I have to say this is also shades of Ludlum? Or at least it's a device to keep us reading because you know that in between Aomame preparing to kill someone, at the point of, if the chapter ends, you will have a chapter of Tengo, and then go back to Aomame, and no time has passed at all, there is no cheating, no time skips when there's a seminal scene. I like this reliability and it's working for me.]

Back to the notes:

Page 277 Flat, unemotional way of writing about sex. 'Fully enjoying the hardness of his penis and the softness of his testicles.' This is about Tengo's older married lover and her enjoyment of his genitals. This type of writing about sex in fiction suits me. Generally, I don't like it when sex is described in novels, I'd rather for some reason to not even go there. I think because it's so hard to write a 'good' sex scene (and really, what is a good sex scene?) but also because it's usually a licentious inclusion only, it's to titillate and to arouse (perhaps) and unless the book itself is about sexual pleasure (ie Lady Chatterley's Lover) why bother? What's the point? (to be said in Reg's voice from Life of Brian, when he wonders why Stan would bother with wanting to have the right to have a womb.)

For me, sex in literature should not be arousing, it should not move you, it should be flat and clinical because it's the most primal of activities and it's only modern life that has attached romance and softness to it. For me, it's perverse to have sex in books, it can be too intrusive to the story. If I want sex, I'll get porn. I don't want it in my books.

OMG Moment # 2

p 306, just before the end of Part 1.

Tengo is telling his married girlfriend about the story he's writing. (Before this, he has rewritten Fuka-Eri's Air Chrysalis and is now energised and working on his own novel. Up to now, we have heard nothing about his project.) He says it's about a different world. How can you tell it's different, the older married gf asks. 'There are two moons,' he says.

Because by now the reader knows that Aomame has seen two moons in her sky, you think ohmyfuckinggod, all the Aomame chapters are his story? There are other pieces of connective tissue between her and his narrative. They knew each other in primary school (you slowly realise this); they each think of the other now they are adults, in fact Aomame loves him and he is the only one she loves, even though she hasn't seen him since she was ten years old.


This is to the end of Part 1.

Other thoughts. So far we have several disappearances. Fuka-Eri disappears (she is 17) but she has also left her family (who were caught up in a cult) when she was ten. Aomame's parents were in a cult, and she left them when she was ten. Then there is Tsubasa, ten years old, who has left her cult family) and was residing with the old lady (dowager) who employs Aomame (about 30 yo) to kill bad men (men who have beaten, tortured their wives etc. The dowager runs a women's shelter.) By the end of Part 1 I think, Tsubasa has also disappeared, or maybe not yet.

Alex? Anyone else?

What is your response to Part 1?


Anonymous said...

I haven't quite caught up to you Melbs, but I'm home now and could probably knock it over this weekend. Of course, if you want to slow down and discuss things a few chapters at a time or something, I'm more than happy with that. I'm just as good either way, so I leave it up to you.

Random thoughts:

It took me quite a bit to get into this book. With Tengo's story, it was after he met Fuka-Eri and with Aomame it was after she met Ayumi. It was at these points that I started getting the impression of the characters fleshing out and becoming real. Before that, the characters and the story-world felt kind of shallow and uninteresting to me. I had a kind of feeling that I was being told about things rather than seeing them for myself. In my notes I have written "description tourettes" which refers to my sense that large chunks of description were being inserted into the story in a way that disrupted the flow of the narrative.

I've never read a Japanese novel before, but I've read quite a few Japanese comics and I'm seeing quite a few similarities. The way the chapters are laid out, the constant references to breasts, Aomame's facial contortions, the concept of having two separate protagonists linked by "the red string of fate"(though the term is not actually used here), and even the premise of a shifting reality and the meaning of perception. In fact, some of the over-descriptiveness, repetitiveness of detail or sloppy editing, as you put it, sort of reminds me of notes to an artist/director. I wonder what sort of work the author did previously?

I don't know what Ludlum is (remember, I'm not a fiction enthusiast), but another thing I've noticed in Japanese comics is a tendency for the ideas or concepts that are being explored to sometimes take over the story in a overbearingly literal way so that the story devolves into philosophical drivel towards the end. I hope this doesn't happen here.

My gut tells me that Tengo's memory of his mother and that wrenching feeling he had when talking to the professor are linked to the reality shift, too.

When Tsubasa says "It was the Little People", it gave me a "how fucking cool is that" shiver because I was completely in the story for that moment. Also, I got very into it when the professor was doing the big-brother comparison. But the appearance of the Little People disappointed me, because I wanted them to be mysterious and play with my imagination for a bit longer.

The idea of living things as vehicles for genes, which have no desire beyond their own replication, is something I read in a book on biology many years ago and it has fascinated me ever since. More so the idea that once you start to look at what people are made of, the concept of the individual starts to seem nonsensical. It's mostly why I'm always banging on about wanting a scientific explanation for free will.

I am finding the amount of sex to be a little intrusive. On a general note, I once heard somebody say that the problem with sex in the movies is that it's all soft-focus and sax music; where in real life it's a lot of grunting and sweating and contorted faces and sloppy farting noises. I think that applies to all fiction in some ways.

For some reason I have a strong fondness for vigilante stories. Especially female vigilantes.

Early on, the story of Tengo kind of reminded me of you, Melbs.

Anonymous said...


While I know that most of what gets taught in women's self-defence classes is a load of bollocks, Aomame's kick-to-the-balls philosophy seemed like just as big a load of bollocks. Especially since she is supposed to have an insane knowledge of the human body. Also, I'm guessing that the author was a man? It makes sense that a man, who has no idea what it's like to be hit in the twat, would assume that a woman has no idea what it's like to be hit in the balls. I liked that whole bit about "On The Beach", though.

Occasionally, there were coincidences that pulled me out of the story. Like when Aomame meets Ayumi and they discuss what kind of men they like and then they turn around and lo-and-behold, two men who fit the bill are sitting right behind them. That's more something you do in a movie where you're working to a time limit. It felt out of place to me in a book.

Sometimes I had trouble following who was talking in a conversation.

Some of the metaphors seemed to stretch things a bit.

We get a description of how Aomame is a health freak who never uses dressing, but earlier she eats three cucumbers with mayonnaise.

Many times we hear about how comfortable Aomame feels on her own, and then late in the volume her "loneliness" is compared to that of the women in the refuge.


Did your paper-version use the term "Society Of Witnesses" in place of Jehovah's Witnesses?

"There were two moons in the sky—a small moon and a large one. They were floating there side by side. The large one was the usual moon that she had always seen. It was nearly full, and yellow. But there was another moon right next to it. It had an unfamiliar shape. It was somewhat lopsided, and greenish, as though thinly covered with moss. This was what her vision had seized upon."

When I read this in chapter fifteen, I was immediately seized by the feeling that it was the second time I was reading it. Does anything similar to this text appear earlier on, or am I imagining things?

When Tengo upsets his girlfriend by interpreting her dream, what does he say that upsets her so much?

Do you really think it's going to be a world within a world thing where one or both of the stories turn out to be the creation of someone/something else?

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, just thinking more about the possibility of Aomame being Tengo's creation: Doesn't her "no strings attached" sex life kind of mirror Tengo's? And don't we get a scene of her on the train after Tengo takes his big train ride to the country? Are there other examples of this sort of thing?

If this is true, it also means that the Little People in Tengo's world -- which may still be a product of Fuka-Eri's warped mind -- have nothing at all to do with the little monster people in Aomame's world.

Melbourne Girl said...

I'm up to page 451. I will read some more tonight but it would be good to read in tandem.

Can we agree to check in with each other when we get to end of Part 2?


I agree about the idea of 'description tourettes' I got the impression Murakami had done research and wanted to get in as much as possible. This always bothers me with other books but I have let it go because of the freshness of the plot.


Tengo reminded you of me? How so?


Robert Ludlum was a writer, you might have heard of The Bourne Identity which had Matt Damon in it. He wrote a lot of thrillers with spies and they are fast paced and, er thrilling.


I also like a vigilante story, especially female is pretty cool.


Yes the writer is a man, a well respected Japanese author who has written a lot of stuff before, though I haven't read any. He wrote Norwegian Wood which was acclaimed, also Kafka on the Shore which has been recommended to me.



Yes Society of Witnesses not Jehovah's.

The moons, I think that was the first time they were described though Tengo may have said that there were two moons in his story but no description like that I don't think.

I can't remember the dream bit and how the gf got upset. Do you have a chapter/section reference? I can re-read it.

Also, I think that the Aomame chapters are going to be Tengo's book. Somehow, but then it all seems to be turning in on itself in a weird way I'm not clear about.

I also think there's going to be some connection between the disappearances of all the females, and also somehow (and this is my daughter's idea, I was telling her about the book) she said maybe the 10 year old who had the Little People come out of her mouth and disappeared, and Fuka-Eri (17 and has disappeared but has had contact with Tengo) and Aomame (30'ish) are all the same people at different ages in parallel universes or something.


You said: Hmmm, just thinking more about the possibility of Aomame being Tengo's creation: Doesn't her "no strings attached" sex life kind of mirror Tengo's? And don't we get a scene of her on the train after Tengo takes his big train ride to the country? Are there other examples of this sort of thing?

I noticed that he talks about Chekhov's 'Sakhalin', tells Fuka-Eri about it, then in Aomame's chapter when she's at the Dowager's house (you may not be up to this yet) the bodyguard there makes a reference to Sakhalin. So yes, there are cross-overs but I didn't notice the train one especially.

It would also explain the coincidence you pointed out about Ayumi and Aomame in the bar turning around and seeing two exact men to their tastes. It's as if it's happening in a book or movie? I reckon all those chapters are Tengo's ms.

Also what's with the reference to his size all the time? He's big and strong, it's been said about four times or more.


Hey, isn't this fun?

What page are you up to now?

Anonymous said...

Up to chapter 5. It's going to be hard to reference page numbers since my version is spread out over nearly twice the pages.

But yes, I am enjoying this. I've never done it with a book, but I love picking movies apart with others.

The Chekhov thing seemed very obvious, like it was supposed to be noticed, I think. A red-herring, maybe?

It seems to me that Tengo's size has been mentioned more like forty times.

Tamaru's advice on using the gun -- both in safety and in using it on oneself effectively -- stood out as being very realistic to me. Would Tengo know about this stuff? I suppose he might if he was well enough read.

The bit where Tengo's girlfriend gets mad is in the very last chapter of volume 1. It's the scene where he is telling her about his book and the world with two moons. She grabs his testicles and squeezes them, but I can't really understand what part of what he said upset her.

Anonymous said...

And Tengo reminded me of you because he is a teacher that writes fiction and is having trouble being published. I thought that might have been one of the things that drew you into the book, but you said earlier that it was when Aomame killed the man, so I suppose I was wrong.

Anonymous said...

I think I am becoming very attached to Tamaru. I hope that if he is killed off, it is not done in a wasteful manner.

Melbourne Girl said...

Would Tengo know about using a gun? If he's a novelist and anywhere near a good one, he would research it. Which is what I thought when I read it, it seemed very realistic. Which also echoes what I figured were the overly-explicit researchy bits elsewhere in the narrative (another example is on the first page, all the guff about the composer Jana'cek). Kind of like a Murakami joke against himself?


Ah the dream where she describes the cottage and the food is there but over time she notices the steam off the food doesn't reduce (impossible in a normal time scenario) and he says maybe she is the one who ran away from her home and she's waiting for herself to come back.

(Later this fits with her supposed 'real' disappearance.)

Also she seems obsessed with his testicles and holding them, squeezing them, evidence coming up in my next notes for Part 2.


Ah of course, there are similarities between me and Tengo, that's funny, never noticed. What drew me into the book was the scene in the taxi while she's stuck in traffic and then going down the ladder. The taxi driver was mysterious and the ladder was too. Kind of like an inverse Magic Faraway Tree; it resonated with me on a deep level I think. It wasn't the murder.

It was the mention of the music playing in the cab - Sinfonettia by Jana'cek (and this comes back later, in a Tengo chapter we know he knows this music and knows about the composer, another clue that he's written the Aomame chapters?)

The taxi driver seems unusual, there is something strange about him. He knows about this ladder, suggests she goes down it and says too that 'the everyday look of things might seem to change a little. Things may look different to you than they did before'. And she does and things do seem different but not in an obvious way.


Tamaru. Hmmm, I wonder whether he will be significant?


Going to bed now to read. Tomorrow we begin Part 2?