More Murakami

Alright, since I loved 1Q84 so much, I thought I’d tackle one of Murakami’s smaller novels, Kafka on the Shore. In this novel, we are again following a dual storyline (not sure if this is a pattern in his novels yet or not, since I’ve only read two and two data points does not a correlation make) but this time it is a young boy who has run away from home and an unusual older gentleman who talks to cats and seems to be a conduit for the young man’s actions. They never come together in the book, except in that their actions work together in an odd sort of way.

As you can probably tell by now, I have to admit I was a bit confused by this one. I really enjoyed it, the writing was again fantastic and the story was engrossing but…I’m not really sure what…the point was? I feel like I’ve just read 400 pages of dense Tao proverbs that should be inspiring and transcendental but they just went completely over my head. I got to the end of the novel, turned the last page, and went…”And…k? Hmm…”

And, as with 1Q84, there are some rather distinct fantastical elements to this one, perhaps with a slightly more science fiction bent due to the sighting of an unknown craft just before events that make our old man as odd as he is. And, again, Murakami feels he needs to point out to the readers that he is not engaging in something as trite as genre fiction when a secondary character, Oshima, says, “What you’re talking about, Kafka, is just a theory. A bold, surrealistic theory, to be sure, but one that belongs in a science fiction novel.” Which is basically what this is. But I’m not going to get into another genre discussion today.

Overall–even though I have no idea what happened at the end of the novel or what I’m supposed to be taking away from it–I truly enjoyed this novel and found myself satisfied with my slightly puzzled response. At least you can say I’m still thinking about it and trying to puzzle through the rather mystical events and connections that permeate it and just what, exactly, they were trying to tell me. I think it might be important…

Cover of Kafka on the Shore

Count the Moons

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is quite the novel. While being incredibly lengthy, it also does justice to that length. There isn’t a single word, character, or subplot that the book could do without; they all carry their weight. I will be the first to admit that around the beginning to section 3, I was ready to throw something at Murakami in frustration. I couldn’t understand why he just kept drawing out waiting for the meeting between Aomame and Tengo. But when they finally do meet, it’s entirely the right moment.

Murakami is a mastermind of magical realism, but I will argue that this novel is a straight up fantasy. On page 462, one of the characters informs Aomame that, “You’ve been reading too much science fiction.” because of her conjectures about dropping into a world with two moons. And I agree, this isn’t science fiction. It’s not some far flung future, with crazy advanced technology. No, this takes place in the recent past and deals with little magical people who build air chrysalises that create some kind of doppelganger. And they way you can tell you’re in the world of the little people (some call is 1Q84, some call it the Cat Town) is that there is a second moon–smaller, malformed, and greenish. Fantasy, straight up.

I don’t want to talk too much about the plot since there are a ton of twists and turns that I really don’t want to give away, but I do want to talk briefly on the structure of it. The chapters alternate between Aomame and Tengo’s point of views and their two discreet storylines. This is sometimes a hard feat to pull off because one storyline will end up more compelling than the other. Murakami somehow managed to make both lines just as compelling, which is interesting because the content of those separate lines would seem to lend themselves to an interest disparity. No, I’m not going to tell you what they are, that would be doing you a disservice. Pick it up and read it!

And for all that the book is enormous (925 pages of narrative alone without counting front and back matter) it’s got an interesting design. I love the cover, it uses an onionskin book jacket with transparent sections that spell 1Q84 allowing the girl and boy on the covers to peek through on the front and back. And the spine alternates where the letters are. Half are on the onionskin, the other half printed on the spine of the book. It just makes for a unique and engaging cover design which speaks to the dual and uncertain nature of the text itself. Inside however, I have one qualm with the designer. There are no running headers or footers, but a side bar with 1Q84 in a square and the page number…well, the page number appears in random places along that sidebar, sometimes backwards, and it changes from chapter to chapter. For someone like me who likes to know where in the book I am incase my bookmark falls out, it drove me a little bit crazy. But I’m sure very few people even notice it.

But all told, definitely worth the time it takes to make it through this opus. When you finish it, you’ll put it down and go to the window–just to make sure there is only one moon floating in the sky.

Cover of 1Q84