Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chrysalis

More than a few of the reviewers seemed perplexed by — or simply undecided about — the meaning of the air chrysalis and the Little People. One reviewer concluded his piece, "As a story, the work is put together in an exceptionally interesting way and it carries the reader along to the very end, but when it comes to the question of what is an air chrysalis, or who are the Little People, we are left in a pool of mysterious question marks. This may well be the author's intention, but many readers are likely to take this lack of clarification as a sign of 'authorial laziness.' While this may be fine for a debut work, if the author intends to have a long career as a writer, in the near future she may well need to explain her deliberately cryptic posture."

Tengo cocked his head in puzzlement. If an author succeeded in writing a story "put together in a exceptionally interesting way" that "carries the reader along to the very end," who could possibly call such a writer "lazy"?

The review Tengo reads, of Air Chrysalis, the novel within the novel of 1Q84, could apply equally well to 1Q84. Haruki Murakami is no debut novelist, but I don't doubt that he knows exactly his own strengths and weaknesses and what the critics make of him. He also is guilty of deliberately cryptic posturing, and yet he carries me along to the very end.

Lines like these crop up every so often:

On a table behind the dowager stood a vase containing three white lilies. The flowers were large and fleshy white, like little animals from an alien land that were deep in meditation.

This description strikes me as brilliantly weird. But other lines aspiring to similar effect fall flat.

I prefer a couple other Murakami novels over this one, but I like this one better than some.

I've developed a fondness for Murakami, not for what he says, not for how he makes me feel, but for making me remember how I once felt.

At the risk of repeating myself, reading Murakami reminds me of my university days, talking late into the night, being and discovering deep and cool.

It turns out that the world of 1Q84, for all the talk of parallel reality, is scarcely different at all from, uh, reality.

The most interesting review I've read of 1Q84, in addition to connecting it to dots drawn by Philip K Dick, makes the point that it works differently on readers depending on where they're coming from literarily speaking:

I suspect part of the problem is that critics tend to focus on the fact that Murakami is a Raymond Chandler fan — he's even translated three Philip Marlowe novels into Japanese (and that dowager in the sunroom I mentioned way back at the beginning? Straight out of The Big Sleep). So they "get" the parts of Murakami that feature aloof, minimalist protagonists stumbling through the world looking for answers to their mysteries, but the weird stuff? That's just... weird. Science fiction readers, though, are much more accustomed to this sort of thing, and the first question they'd ask isn't so much "what the heck is going on?" but "does Murakami make this work?"

The disappointment I feel in this book lies in its lack of 1984ishness. A few potentially ominous signs that the character had slipped into a world not like the one we know had me expecting some doublethink, a denunciation or wrongful imprisonment for misunderstanding the rules of this world, but a couple hundred pages on I realized this wasn't going to happen.

[The novella I happened to be reading alongside the undertaking of 1Q84 was, coincidentally, far more Orwellian, and frightening for being grounded in a real time and place in our recent history. That book was After Midnight, by Irmgard Keun, set in 1930s Germany. But more on this another time.]

There's nothing Orwellian about 1Q84. Which is fine. But I feel a tiny bit cheated. Even though I was carried along to the very end. And really, I loved every minute of it.

4 comments:

Stefanie said...

"I've developed a fondness for Murakami, not for what he says, not for how he makes me feel, but for making me remember how I once felt."

What an interesting observation! I've not read enough Murakami to know what I think of him. I've only read Hardboiled Wonderland but I liked it and all its weirdness quite a lot. is it too early to start thinking of books for my 2012 reading list? I'll have to be sure and get some Murakami on it.

Bellezza said...

I have just finished the book, and I have such mixed emotions about it. While I continue to hold Murakami as one of my favorite authors, this book...disappoints? Perhaps it was too soon to post my review, to which I've linked to your post, because the thoughts are still swirling around in my mind. Like you, I'd rather hoped for a more distinctive 1Q84, and like you, "I've developed a fondness for Murakami, not for what he says, not for how he makes me feel, but for making me remember how I once felt." Well said, especially for this novel about love.

Harvee/Book Dilettante said...

I thought that 1984 by Orwell was shown a bit in the Big Brother religious organizations that controlled their members and abused their women and children. Perhaps Murakami sees more and more of this - people being under the control of leaders of organizations whom they follow without question? This has happened more in the U.S. recently than in Japan, I admit.

I'll be glad to link your vry thoughtful review to mine, as Bellezza has done with her review!

Isabella said...

Stefanie, Hardboiled Wonderland is my 2nd favourite, behind Wind-up Bird Chronicle (which I think you'd like). Even though 1Q84moves pretty swiftly, because of its length I wouldn't recommend it to a Murakami newbie.

Bellezza, I think I know what you mean. After all the hype, the novel itself is a little anticlimactic. Still it's remarkable, and I can't think of any other author that does this to me, that Murakami can inspire and sustain that hard-to-pin-down feeling in me, and certainly I don't mind being coccooned in it for a few hundred pages.

Harvee, nice to meet you. That's a really good point. IMO, the cult exerts something like a supernatural power, more than a political one, or maybe it's a little political but through supernatural means, and it's not all-prevasive but relatively secluded. Abuse of women and children is definitely a major theme in this novel and it takes a few different forms, but I don't think this book amounts to a strong social commentary. Unless it can be argued that the Little People are in control and directing all this behaviour systemically as way as a to preserve their own power (maybe?), the title (any connection to 1984), apart from the wordplay in Japanese, strikes me as completely arbitrary.