November 2011

Arts & Letters

‘1Q84’ books 1, 2 and 3 by Haruki Murakami

By Lian Hearn

Leos Janacek’s Sinfonietta and Anton Chekhov’s Sakhalin Island both became bestsellers last year in Japan after featuring in Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 – such is the author’s influence. Perhaps Murakami chose these artists to suggest traditions of Central Europe, for one of the themes of 1Q84 is the enchanted forest, a fairytale world of two moons and Little People, where a boy and girl must find each other.

The boy is Tengo, the girl Aomame – like many people in the novel, they have unusual names. As children they were outsiders. Aomame was brought up in a sect called the Witnesses. Tengo’s father was a licence fee collector for the national public broadcaster. Now approaching 30, they are both engaged in amoral acts. Aomame is a hit-woman; Tengo, a cram school teacher and aspiring writer, has been persuaded to polish up a novel, Air Chrysalis, by the beautiful young Fuka-Eri, so it will win a famous prize for young writers.

Murakami, who investigated Aum Shinrikyo – the sect responsible for the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway – recently said, “The wall separating people who would commit a crime from those who wouldn’t is flimsier than you might think.” His complex interlinking plot allows him to examine closely the art of the novelist as well as religious sects, belief in God, morality and ethics and the nature of reality. There’s also a lot of sex, medicinal, mechanical and mystical. But nothing is as it seems. Actions (murder, child rape) may appear reprehensible, even shocking, but turn out to be something else. And behind every operator is another manipulator. Who is responsible? Who will shoulder morality? As one reviewer says of Air Chrysalis, “the author leaves us with a mysterious pool of question marks.”

This is the first of Murakami’s novels written entirely in the third person, giving alternate chapters to Tengo and Aomame, and adding a third point of view in Book 3 with the sleazy but compelling private investigator Ushikawa. The narrative is perhaps less mesmerising than in the first-person novels, but the characterisation is much richer and the settings – the conservatory of Aomame’s mentor filled with butterflies; the Hotel Okura where “a large foreign couple loom like an old king and queen past their prime”; the care home where Tengo’s father lies in a coma – are unforgettable.

There are occasional irritations: images slide suddenly into banality, the familiar obsessions with beautiful ears and mysterious cats appear, along with endless telephone conversations involving intense staring at handsets and pressing of temples. But if you are a Murakami fan you overlook these. Murakami’s great strength is his absolute trust in the images offered by his unconscious and his unflinching loyalty to them. The imagery of dreams may look banal in the light of day but it’s our only chance of glimpsing the true picture. These unsettling glimpses into the myriad layers of reality are the reward of 1Q84.

Lian Hearn
Lian Hearn is a writer based in Goolwa, South Australia. She is the author of the Tales of the Otori series, which has sold more than 4 million copies. Lian Hearn is the pen-name used by children’s author Gillian Rubinstein.

'1Q84', Books 1, 2 and 3, By Haruki Murakami, Harvill Secker, 952pp; $39.95
Cover: November 2011

November 2011

From the front page

The NBN-ding story

New developments in the interminable debate over broadband in Australia

‘The weekend’ cover

‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood

The Stella Prize–winner returns with a stylish character study of women surprised by age

Penthouse magazine cover Aug 1993

Tasteful sexuality

An oral history of the Warwick & Joanne Capper ‘Penthouse’ shoot

Rhetoric vs reality

The government has no agenda for addressing the worsening economy


In This Issue

Quarterly Essay 44, 'Man-Made World: Choosing between Progress and Planet', by Andrew Charlton, Black Inc., 142pp; $19.95

What we learned in Copenhagen

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Morris West & Ngo Dinh Diem

Greatness may be calling: Bob Hawke and Paul Keating in 1990. © Peter Morris/Fairfax Syndication

The book of Paul

Lessons in leadership and Paul Keating

Dreamland

A journey through north-western NSW with Ivan Sen


More in Arts & Letters

Still from Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

No one’s laughing now: Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

A gripping psychological study of psychosis offers a surprising change of pace in the superhero genre

‘Penny Wong: Passion and Principle’

‘Penny Wong: Passion and Principle’

Margaret Simons’ biography of one of the country’s most admired politicians

Patricia Cornelius

Patricia Cornelius: No going gently

‘Anthem’ marks the return of the Australian playwright’s working-class theatre

East Melbourne liturgy


More in Noted

‘The weekend’ cover

‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood

The Stella Prize–winner returns with a stylish character study of women surprised by age

‘Act og Grace’ cover

‘Act of Grace’ by Anna Krien

The journalist’s propulsive debut novel tackles the aftermath of the Iraq War

‘Here Until August’

‘Here Until August’ by Josephine Rowe

The Australian author’s second short-story collection focuses on the precipice of change rather than its culmination

Image of ‘The Godmother’

‘The Godmother’ by Hannelore Cayre

A sardonic French bestseller about a godmother, in the organised crime sense of the word


Read on

Image from ‘Judy’

Clang, clang, clang: ‘Judy’

The Judy Garland biopic confuses humiliation for homage

Image of Joel Fitzgibbon and Anthony Albanese

Climate of blame

Labor runs the risk of putting expediency over principle

Afterwards, nothing is the same: Shirley Hazzard

On the splendour of the acclaimed author’s distinctly antipodean seeing

We will not be complete

The time for convenient denial of Australia’s brutal history is past


×
×