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

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

Locking back down

Victoria’s woes are a warning for the whole country

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Weal of fortune

Rebuilding the economy means government investment, but not all public spending is equal

Image of Labor’s Kristy McBain and Anthony Albanese

A win’s a win

The Eden-Monaro result shows that Morrison’s popularity has not substantially changed voting patterns – and Labor has still not cut through

The man inside and the inside man

Crime, punishment and indemnities in western Sydney’s gang wars


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 ‘Contempt’

The death of cool: Michel Piccoli, 1925–2020

Re-watching the films of the most successful screen actor of the 20th century

Image of Ziggy Ramo

The heat of a moment: Ziggy Ramo’s ‘Black Thoughts’

A debut hip-hop album that calls for a reckoning with Indigenous sovereignty and invites the listener to respond

Photograph of Malcolm Turnbull

Surrounded by pygmies: Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘A Bigger Picture’

The former PM’s memoir fails to reckon with his fatal belief that all Australians shared his vision

Still from ‘The Assistant’

Her too: ‘The Assistant’

Melbourne-born, New York–based filmmaker Kitty Green’s powerfully underplayed portrait of Hollywood’s abusive culture


More in Noted

‘Minor Detail’ by Adania Shibli

‘Minor Detail’ by Adania Shibli (trans. Elisabeth Jaquette)

The Palestinian author’s haunting novel about an atrocity committed by Israeli soldiers in 1949

‘The Rain Heron’ by Robbie Arnott

An unsettling near-future tale of soldiers hunting a mythic bird by “the Tasmanian Wordsworth”

Cover of ‘The Trials of Portnoy’

‘The Trials of Portnoy’ by Patrick Mullins

The finely detailed story of the legal fight in Australia against the censorship of Philip Roth’s ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’

Cover of ‘The End of October’

‘The End of October’ by Lawrence Wright

A ‘New Yorker’ journalist’s eerily prescient novel about public-health officials fighting a runaway pandemic


Read on

Image of Labor’s Kristy McBain and Anthony Albanese

A win’s a win

The Eden-Monaro result shows that Morrison’s popularity has not substantially changed voting patterns – and Labor has still not cut through

Image of Patrick Allington's ‘Rise & Shine’

Shelf pity: ‘Rise & Shine’

Patrick Allington’s fable of a world in which perpetual war is staged to fuel compassion is too straightforward for its ambitions

Image of then treasurer Scott Morrison handing Barnaby Joyce a lump of coal during Question Time, February 9, 2017.

Coal cursed

The fossil-fuel lobby could not have created the climate wars so easily without the preceding culture wars

Image of library shelves

Learning difficulties

The Coalition’s political agenda is a gross infringement on academic freedom


×
×