Monday, December 19, 2011

Part 3 1Q84

I think it was Iris Murdoch who said 'never explain yourself' [in writing.] It's a credo I love and try to adhere to in my own writing. As a reader I don't want everything laid out across the page, I don't want my brain to be told how to imagine things, how to visualise things. Too much detail from the author interferes with my imaginings, and I like to think that reader can become complicit in the creation of worlds and characters when there are gaps for them to step into.

1Q84 has so many unanswered questions even at the end but towards the end it's noted that there are always more questions than answers. I can accept this, I can handle it, I desire it in a way because when things are left unfinished, in a novel, then it's not over. I can keep thinking about it and somehow remain in the story even after I've read the last page. This is a fabulous byproduct of reading for me, and I've only just now been able to articulate it. Thank you Haruki Murakami for showing me this.


Notes on Part 3.

Page 598 the reference to A. being eleven years old when she cut ties with her family. I thought before it was 10.

Page 599 Henchmen Buzzcut and Ponytail, something is wrong with Ponytail, he never speaks in the whole book, there are a couple of significant moments when he moves suddenly but incompletely and ambivalently. Is he a dohta?

Buzzcut says he can't remember much about A's face. Echoes bit before about the Little People with their undistinguishing features, their faces, hair and clothes that when you look away, you can't remember what they look like.

This first chapter of Part 3 is from Ushikawa's point of view.

Page 597 Ushikawa's fingers, ten, resting on the desk 'as if they were some curious object' then on Page 602 'He looked surprised to discover that these fingers were his.'

At this point I wondered whether Murakami was deliberately repeating things like this to create a sense of deja vue for the readers? Alex, you asked me whether you'd read a moon passage before one appeared in the book and I didn't think so. Maybe you had. You had the feeling you'd read it before. Was this a mechanism of manipulation of the author? Am I reading too much into this? [More about this later, this tendency to 'overthink.']

Page 631 Misspelling of two storey (as two-story). Why? Is this American spelling? Yes, just checked. It is.

Page 678 A asks for pregnancy test. Hasn't been with a man since June but period is 3 weeks late. Night at Hotel Okura when she killed Leader she was most fertile. The night she killed Leader was the night Tengo 'ejaculated' into Fuka-Eri.

- significance of Tamaru being gay?

Fuka-Eri is A's dohta and somehow Tengo has impregnated A?

Page 695 Ushikawa's appearance is described again. Is he the child from the sanitorium that Tamaru helped?

Page 698 Vice Principal at Tengo's and A's old school tells Ushikawa that A was taken in by relatives in Adachi Warn in Tokyo. Adachi is the name of the one of the nurses Tengo meets in cat town.

Page 701 Ushikawa from a wealthy family

Page 704 Why was A in a regular school when her parents were such religious nuts?

Page 714 Idea of going UP the stairway, logical, to get back to 1984

Page 715 So much happening. The bogus NHK person knocking on doors, Tamaru revealing he got a woman pregnant once and his child would be 17 now. A is pregnant, immaculate conception.

* look up Janacek's Sinfonettia, the version I listened to on youtube was 7 mins long but in the taxi at the beginning onf the book and while A is working out, it is much longer. Wiki tells me typical performance runs for 20 - 25 mins. Hmmm.

Page 723 Tengo leaves the town of cats to train back to Tokyo. Sleep and makes awful smell in his mouth, he chews gum, this happened to A earlier and she used mints. Later Ushikawa also has rotten smell in mouth. And Little People come out once he's dead; is it a sign of Little People inhabitation?

Page 727 "when he had polished off the beer" - so idiomatic, Aussie.

Chapter 13, Ushikawa chapters are intrustive? I just want Tengo and Aomame.

Page 731 - 732 Reference to Ushikawa having no photo of Aomame other than class picture which depicts her face as 'tiny and somehow unnatural-looking, like a mask.'

Ch 16 page 763 Ushikawa - 3rd time mentioning 'start from scratch' (previously he was cold in the sleeping bag, now with surveillance. Why the repeats?)

Page 764 Ushikawa used to be a lawyer

Page 767 Maza = mother, dohta = daughter? A person splits?

My idea - Aomame has been used by the dowager, her daughter didn't die, or not in the way described, her child survived? Somehow connected to Tengo or Aomame?*

Page 768 Fuka-Eri - "strangely depthless eyes"

Page 769 Fuka-Eri looking at electricity pole. Twice. Then later Tengo does as well. Never explained, love it.

Page 772 - 73 NHK collector at Ushikawa's door. (Death knocking?**) "I never give up until I get what is coming to me. I never waver from that. It's like the phases of the moon, or life and death. There is no escape."

Page 771 turns on space heater
Page 773 Ushikawa turns on the space heater

Page 780 Ushikawa is "dwarfish"

Page 780 U in park, watching Tengo. A goes to the phone, misses seeing T but catches glimpse of U. U stayed in the park "checking on something he needed to make sure of" (this is never explained or referred to again.)

Page 888 Tamaru telling Tengo to meet A at the slide. Message to keep both hands free.

OMG the ladder!!

Late in the book, lots of references to Tengo's hair. Mention of cowlicks and tangles, never before has it been mentioned or highlighted in this way.

Page 896 A: There's the moon.

Is A the smaller moon (her name means green pea, and the small moon is green and rounded but not perfectly shaped. A green pea is well-shaped?)

What does Tengo mean in Japanese? Had a look, can't really find.

Page 899-900 Buzzcut talking to his 'superior' who is asking questions in italics not direct speech. Unclear who/where the superior is.

Page 902 Shrine maidens - the 'voice' is still audible or there was a final message before the Leader was killed?

Page 907 A's 'small pink ears', what about her deformed ear?

Page 914 "closer to a ladder than a stairway. It was shabbier and more rickety than she remembered."

Page 918 Metropolitan Expressway 3 - traffic described as 'bumper to bumper' then on the next page 'they watched the leisurely flow of the traffic before them.'


Page 923 A's tears are described as falling to the sheets like rain. Blech.


I am glad the ending was happy and it was right at the end, when Tengo and Aomame were reunited that I felt something for these two characters, and was wanting them to be together, get up the ladder and be safe.

There are so many layers in this book, and seemingly lots of red herrings (for want of a better term, I prefer to think of them now as Idea Starters rather than tricks or traps). I think a person could read this book as a fantasy, read it as a thriller, or read it as a piece of literary fiction looking for all the themes and symbols. My mind was going off in all directions, much like Tengo's at the end, when he started to overthink and doubt and suspect and worry that something would go wrong. But Aomame doesn't waver in the same way. She is very simple and clear, whereas he is more complex in his thinking.Can see all the possibilities.

I have a list of 'reasons why I think this is an incredible book'

- the beldn of literary imagery with popular fiction style

- the existence of the ladder, the slide and the two moons. I can see them all, and they seem so archetypal in some way.

- people disappearing mysteriously and we never find out what happened to them (Tsubasa, Tengo's girlfriend) likewise Tengo never finds out what happened to his mother (but the reader does.) This is what happens in life; nobody ever has all of the pieces of the puzzle.

- all the references including the bit about Jung's theory of the collective unconscious. I had wondered about that. Also the bit about his stone house that he built and the inscription of 'Cold or Not, God is Present.' Also unexplained, but with more than one possible meaning.

- Chekhov's gun and how if there is a gun it has to be fired. Didn't happen and the characters are aware that Chekhov's 'rule' is broken. So if thisliterary rule is broken, what other literary rules have been broken?

- the nicknames - Bobblehead, Buzzcut and Ponytail. I love people who make up names for people because I do it. Don't we all do it?

- the amazing consistency, where scenes are filled with fixed objects that become like characters, eg the playground. We have the slide, the locked public toilet block, the mercury-vapor lamp and the zelkova tree.

- the fabulous slips into surrealism, eg Bobblehead's mossy tongue

- the page numbers are mirrored images, flipped and inverted and running to a pattern (Alex you may not have this on your version?)

- the coincidences and near misses, slips of time. The confusion with continuity at times, when visits to the park are shown from three different points of view in three (or more) different chapters. I'm wondering whether this is another broken literary convention or rule: don't confuse the reader with continuity problems, keep things as linear as possible or if not, make it work within the world, time sequencing.

- the fairytale qualities, Six Little People come out of Ushikawa's death mouth like dwarves returned from the mines. But they are clean and their clothes are clean.

- the mention of Tengo and A leaving 'the forest'


So why do I think this is a masterpiece when there are flaws and inconsistencies?

I can't compare really because I haven't read anything else of his, but I suspect he is a precise and knowing writer of literary fiction. I think it's all quite deliberate, how he has done this book, and it's possibly the greatest cross-over novel of all time, one where the possible audience-capture is so vast that anyone could find something in it, and find it not too hard to read. The only thing is the size of it, not many people will commit to reading such a big book. I wonder whether it was in three volumes originally, and published over time?

To google.

* this is an example of the elaborate scenarios I made up to fill in the gaps. This is reader as most active, as part of the equation of conveying the story.

** later one of the nurses tells Tengo that his father wasn't completely in a coma, that he was tapping the side of the bed. She demonstrates, and Tengo says it's a knocking not tapping a code. Was it Tengo's father who managed to knock on the three doors asking for payment? Ushikawa kept an eye out for the NHK collector to leave the building, but no one ever did. Again, unexplained but marvellous.


Anonymous said...

General thoughts on volume 3:

Even though volume 2 had a big blob in the middle that I didn't like, I much preferred it to this. The first three quarters of this seemed tortuously drawn out to me, and yes having Ushikawa suddenly have is own chapters seemed like an unnecessary deviation. This hypothesis comes straight from my arse, but here's the impression I get:

As Aomame and Tengo get closer together, the story needs to flip back and forth between them more rapidly. But, you've already got a formula where each one gets one chapter in turn. If you don't want to make your chapters shorter, what do you do? Well, you have whatever needs to happen happen in the chapter and then you pad the rest out with the character ponderously thinking about that thing that just happened and how it relates to everything that's happened previously. Unfortunately, now you've got an incredibly repetitive situation where nothing much is happening. Solution: bring a third character to the foreground and have them do stuff. You may notice that the other characters parts start moving again after Ushikawa is killed*.

*I think Tamaru killing Ushikawa might have been my favourite part of this volume.

Anonymous said...

Replies to your notes:

In other words: "Show, don't tell"?

I think her "encounter" with Tengo happened when she was ten and she left her family when she was eleven.

Did you notice that one bit where Usikawa actually calls Buzzcut Buzzcut? Like, it was inside the inverted commas as he was speaking. I wonder if this was some sort of Japanese language quirk that they couldn't get around in the translation or somebody's mind slipped or what.

I haven't tried to work out how realistic Aomame's fertility cycles were. If you do, let me know.

I kind of think the significance of Tamaru being gay was that it eliminated any suspicion of him ever developing any sort of romantic interest in Aomame that the audience might entertain. I think the author wanted to make it totally unambiguous what the relationship was and what Tamaru's motives were.

I remember going to school with Jehovah's Witnesses. I guess they're not fanatical enough to home-school.

I also thought the rotten smell in people's mouths would have some significance. Also, what became of the Ushikawa air chrysalis?

You also noticed mazza and dohta are fairly approximate to how your average Japanese speaker would probably pronounce the English words mother and daughter?

I noticed the ears as well. But Tengo thought Aomame's breasts were perfect even after we heard eighty million times how horrible they were. Eye of the beholder, I guess.


Stuff from my notes that you didn't already cover:

We get told about every piss that everybody takes. Waiting to here about somebody taking a shit now, too.

"and when he ejaculated it was powerful, heroic even" -- Dear fucking God.

"Aomame mourned the deaths of these two friends deeply. It saddened her to think that these women were forever gone from the world. And she mourned their lovely breasts" -- See last reaction and multiply by two.

Anonymous said...

Also, no, I missed out on the interesting page numbering.

Melbourne Girl said...

I wonder whether the drawn out effect was indulgent or an attempt to create the sense of time passing, much like Aomame trying to read Proust, we were struggling with another read.

I'm sure the chapters could have still alternated between Tengo and A. I think the inclusion of Ushikawa chapters was so we could see what was happening to him, and then to get that last scene where he was dead and Buzzcut and Ponytail were in the room, Buzzcut conversing with someone and then for the Little People to come out of Ushi's mouth.

The only other time I remember that we had omniscient narrator was when Tusuba (the 10 year old girl) was asleep as was the Dowager, and the Little People came out of her mouth.

My favourite part of volume three was Tengo and A on top of the slide and then getting to the top of the ladder on the motorway and 'being okay'. I'm a sucker for a happy ending.


No, I didn't mean show don't tell with the quote on 'never explain' or I don't think I did. My interpretation of it was don't feel you have to fill in all the gaps, whether it's by showing or telling. Have some gaps in the story. I need to find the exact quotation to see whether it's 'never explain' or 'never explain yourself.'


A's fertility cycles? Not sure what you mean, do you mean the 400 eggs and she is 30 so she figured about half had been shed?


Yes some of the writing. Can't have been in the translation? Surely not?

Anonymous said...

Towards the end of chapter 17 we get a big chunk of omniscient narration; right when Aomame misses seeing Tengo at the slide while he is being pursued by Ushikawa. I made a note that the book's voice had cracked for a few passages.

No, I don't mean about the 400 eggs; I mean about her being at the height of her fertility and how late her period was and how far along her pregnancy was in relation to the dates when everything was supposed to have happened.

I always wonder when reading translated works. I know that no language can ever be translated cleanly into another and still maintain all the texture and nuance. I imagine many of the turns of phrase and other conventions probably get westernised in the process and there's probably a lot of subtle humour and double entendre that either get watered down or goes out the window as well.

Melbourne Girl said...

I didn't track her cycle at all Alex, so I don't know.

About translation, I would have thought that an important element of being a good translator (and I'm sure Murakami would be given the best, and he'd be finicky because he has translated major works into Japanese I think I read) is that translations have finesse and sensitivity and incorporate all the subtleties of meaning. Of course not everything would be exact but there have to be conventions and there has to be equal understanding of each language, hasn't there? Otherwise it would be a poor translation.

Anonymous said...

No. I think sometimes there just isn't any way to convey something in equal terms. As a very rough kind of example, consider the English phrase "one hand washes the other". For most people, that phrase has nothing to do with hygiene, and depending on circumstance, can convey all manner of insinuations regarding impropriety and corruption. Imagine that you're trying to translate that into a language where the phrase is not only meaningless in its literal sense, but has no suitable equivalent. Now imagine the author has used the phrase in conjunction with a symbolic scene in which hands are literally being washed. How do you explain this to the audience in such a way that any eloquence and subtlety in the original text isn't immediately lost?

Anonymous said...

where the phrase is not only meaningless in its literal sense

This should be: "where the phrase is not only meaningless in direct translation"

Anonymous said...

Hi Melbourne Girl, I lived in Melbourne for several years but now am in Boston! I just finished reading 1Q84 so I found your comments and questions stimulating and interesting. Although I really enjoyed the book and couldn't put it down because it was so fascinating, I felt there were so many loose ends and unanswered questions. I get that not all stories should have everything explained and some things are more effective left to the imagination, there were too many. I would've wanted more solid explanation of the Little People, Air Crysalis itself and the people who just disappeared without explanation. The third volume was bit of a let down as the loose ends were not tied well and I'm disappointed. What happened to Eki? Who was the NHK collector who knocked on Aomame's door in the hiding place, at Tengo's apartment and Ushikawa's? Was Tengo's father his real father? I loved how there were many layers of the story but without making these things clear, it doesn't make the reader believe in it. All these ideas and questions thrown out there, that was a real disappointment.

But this was one of the most fascinating stories I've read. And thank you for your post!

Anonymous said...

Anon, I'm pretty sure that the NHK collector knocking on all the doors was meant to be Tengo's dad. The rest of the stuff was left in the air though, as you say.

Geoff Polk said...

Your first Murakami? I envy you, since I've devoured them all. My favorite is probably The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, similarly large in scope. Murakami is the perfect novelist for me, with his mysticism, magic, jazz, and the hero's journey in each novel in which an everyday Jo who doesn't know himself in anyway is forced into a strange world where is must find himself/herself. btw, Melbourne Girl, have you met Poetry Man? (

Melba said...

Just found these comments here Geoff and Anon - thank you for visiting. Not sure if you'll pass this way again. Maybe when the next Murakami comes out...