BOOKS

1Q84

Rating: 3.0 / 5.0

Notes and Highlights

Introduction

After finishing Infinite Jest earlier this year, Lauren decided I needed another big, complex, labyrinthine book to explore. She gifted me Murakami’s 1Q84. Prior to reading 1Q84, I had only heard snatches of Kafka on the Shore, so I walked in with few prejudices but was prepared for some Murakami signature tropes: magical realism, supernatural sex, and cats.

Style / Structure

Normally I don’t like magical realism. I find it a bit frustrating when suddenly someone turns into a balloon or gains the power of flight. Whenever I encountered it in the context of the South American magical realists e.g. Allende, Marquez I tended to roll my eyes a lot more. But maybe in my old age I’m softening on that trope: I now find the magical realism of “Random Acts of Flyness” innovative and symbolic.

A "White Witness" saves a black man from police harrassment

Interestingly, 1Q84 doesn’t present itself as high literature and, by virtue of actually being more or less a genre-fiction, the magical realism is thoroughly weighted down within the quotidian. Some readers complained about this (“How many times do we need to read what they had for dinner and how they prepared it?“), but I found it was a reasonable way to keep the fantastic elements that loomed behind the daily events under control.

Plot

What sort of magical events? From the outset, we know we’re entering a parallel universe because our protagonist’s first interlocutor, a cabbie, tells her it might be after she exists his car. Aomame, the protagonist, registers this is incredibly odd, but like so much of the oddness of the novel, it’s just shrugged at.

As the hint later solidifies in the protagonist’s mind to being what’s happened, the parallel world is dubbed “1Q84” a world parallel to the “main” reality of 1984. 1Q84’s world, for those who are ready to see it, features two moons. There is also a cult, on a farm, who engages with and receives guidance from Little People whose whys and culture are never really explained.

In the other principal narrative thread, a daughter of The Leader of the cult has escaped. She writes a story describing her life in the secretive compound and, reworked by our protagonist Tengo, the story has become a best-seller. As a result, the Little People have gone silent, much to the cult’s consternation.

And yes, there’s a tie between the two protagonists that exists unseen across multiple realities.

Glows

I think my favorite scene happens when the Leader discourses about the nature of religion and how the religious elect are doomed to die in a heinous fashion in order to serve the populous’ need for magic. There were some real shades of Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (and thus “Westworld”) here as well as Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens.

Gripes

Invoking a parallel universe is a lot like prophecy: its inherently engaging but the reader always wants to know “how it works.” Murakami doesn’t deliver on this. The Little People (who find portals through decayed bodies of animals and people!) what are they, what do they want? Not explained. The book that threatens the cult’s integrity described a Little People McGuffin called an Air Chrysalis. What it is, how does it work, why one should be desired or feared? Not explained. Lastly there appears to be some technique for cloning or connecting people across distance and dimensions. Not explained.

I think it’s fine for magic to be present in books: life is mysterious and surprising sometimes. But there has to be a perceptible logos to the magical realm and I don’t feel like Murakami delivered on that. In many places the magic is just convenient versus “uncovered o “applied.” The Potterverse also suffers from this: in her more disciplined moments Rowling gives us view to a logos of the Wizarding world, but often times Harry and his friends escape scrapes by convenient deus ex machina.

Similarly here: protagonists vanish, antagonists vanish, threats are rendered irrelevant and the strongest antagonist is defanged in an unsatisfying way.

Conclusion

Ultimately, I’d definitely like to read more Murakami. I picked up Kafka on the Shore when I was in London in August and plan to peruse it in short order. I’m told this isn’t a standout novel of his and, reading between the lines, I can see a vastly better novelist peeking out. I’d like to read some of that individual’s work.

On the other hand, the characterization, the setting, and the tone were all strikingly unique and I enjoyed my visit to 1Q84. Even as an average novel it was more enjoyable than most and certainly much more imaginative.

Notes below:

{
  "title": "IQ84",
  "author": "Haruki Murakami",
  "highlightCount": 46,
  "noteCount": 2,
  "annotations": [
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 11,
      "highlight": "Right. And after you do something like that, the everyday look of things might seem to change a little. Things may look different to you than they did before. I've had that experience myself. But don't let appearances fool you. There's always only one reality."
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "location": 106,
      "highlight": "There has to be an end somewhere. It's just that nothing's labeled 'This is the end.' Is the top rung of a ladder labeled 'This is the last rung. Please don't step higher than this'?",
      "annotation": "Reference to Wittgenstein's Tractatus..."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 138,
      "highlight": "There's a need, too, for a special name in order to distinguish between this present world and the former world in which the police carried old-fashioned revolvers. Even cats and dogs need names. A newly changed world must need one, too...I'll call this new world...[IQ84]...A world that bears a question."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 139,
      "highlight":  "Either I am funny or the world funny, I don't know which. The bottle and lid don't fit. It could be the bottle's fault where the lid's fault. In either case, there's no denying that the fit is bad."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 166,
      "highlight":  "\"Age has nothing to do with it,\" Aomame snapped back. \"It's a question of how you live your life. The important thing is to adopt a stance of always being deadly serious about protecting yourself. You can't go anywhere if you just resign yourself to being attacked. A state of chronic powerlessness eats away person.\""
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 191,
      "highlight":  "On Sundays, children should be allowed to play with other children to their heart's content, not made to go around threatening people until they paid their fees or frightening people with warnings about the impending end of the world. Such work – to the extent that it is necessary at all– should be done by adults."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 206,
      "highlight":  "This was not about the mere loss of her virginity but rather the sanctity of an individual human being's soul. No one had the right to invade such sacred precincts with muddy feet. And once it happened, that sense of powerlessness could only keep gnawing away at a person."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 219,
      "highlight": "Everybody needs some kind of fantasy to go on living, don't you think?"
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": "219-220",
      "highlight": "But still, a basic desire to obtain knowledge at a universal level–which Tengo assumed to be a more or less natural urge in people – was lacking in the man."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 222,
      "highlight":  "He remained free as long as he actively explored that realm of infinite consistency. He walked down the gigantic building's twisted corridor, opening one numbered door after another. Each time a new spectacle opened up before him, the ugly traces of the real world would dissipate and then simply disappear."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 222,
      "highlight": "As his doubts increased, Tengo began deliberately to put some distance between himself and the world of mathematics, and instead the forest of story began to exert a stronger pull on his heart. Of course, reading novels was just another form of escape."
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "location": 222,
      "highlight": "But at some point Tengo noticed that returning to reality from the world of a novel was not as devastating a blow as returning from the world of mathematics. Why should that have been? After much deep thought, he reached a conclusion. No matter how clear the relationships of things might become in the forest of story, there was never a clear-cut solution. That was how it differed from math. The role of a story was, in the broadest terms, to transpose the single problem into another form. Depending on the nature and direction of the problem, a solution could be suggested in the narrative. Tengo would rather return to the real world with that suggestion in hand. It was like a piece of paper bearing the indecipherable text of a magic spell. At times it lacked coherence and served no immediate practical purpose. But it would contain a possibility. Someday he might be able to decipher the spell. That possibility would gently warm as heart from within.",
      "annotation": "Writing and coding..."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 232,
      "highlight": "That is why it is necessary for you to fasten your feelings to the earth–firmly, like attaching an anchor to a balloon. The money is for that. To prevent you from feeling that you can do anything you want as long as it's the right thing and your feelings are pure. Do you see now?"
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 240,
      "highlight": "If you can love someone with your whole heart, even one person, then there's salvation in life. Even if you can't get together with that person."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 241,
      "highlight": "But if you can love someone with your whole heart–even if he's a terrible person and even if he doesn't love you back–life is not a hell, at least, though it might be kind of dark. Is that what you're saying?"
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 241,
      "highlight": "...it seems to me that this world has a serious shortage of both logic and kindness."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 310,
      "highlight": "Did it benefit the genes in any way for us to lead such intricately warped, even bizarre, lives?...Did the genes merely enjoy such deformed episodes as colorful entertainment, or were these episodes utilized by them for some greater purpose?"
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 350,
      "highlight": "In contrast to the time he spent performing daily tasks or writing fiction, Tengo was able to attain a new level of relaxation – and even to become more eloquent - when he entered the world of mathematics."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 350,
      "highlight":  "Tengo's lectures took on uncommon warmth, and the students found themselves swept up in his eloquence. He taught them how to practically and effectively solve mathematical problems while simultaneously presenting a spectacular display of the romance concealed in the questions it posed. Tengo saw admiration in the eyes of several of his female students..."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 368,
      "highlight": "That's what the world is, after all: an endless battle of contrasting memories."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 368,
      "highlight": "The thing I'm most afraid of is me. Of not knowing what I'm going to do. Of not knowing what I'm doing right now."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 454,
      "highlight": "Time had the power to cancel all changes wrought by human artifice, overwriting all new revisions with further revisions, returning the flow to its original course. A few minor facts might be changed, but Tengo would still be Tengo."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 459,
      "highlight": "...But I know. Ayumi had a great emptiness inside her, like a desert at the edge of the earth. You could try watering it all you wanted, but everything would be sucked down to the bottom of the earth, leaving no trace of moisture. No life could take root there. Not even birds would fly over it. What had created such a wasteland inside Ayumi..."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 550,
      "highlight": "Most people are not looking for provable truths...What people need is beautiful, comforting stories that make them feel as if their lives have some meaning. Which is where religion comes from."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 552,
      "highlight": "But as with all forms of heavenly grace, people have to pay a price for the gifts they are given....Just remember this: the gods give, and the gods take away. Even if you are not aware of having been granted what you possess, the gods remember what they gave you. They don't forget a thing. You should use the abilities you have been granted with the utmost care"
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 563,
      "highlight": "...he did not know if there was such thing as a fair price for trouble. There must surely be many different kinds of trouble in the world for which there was no way to attach a price or for which there was no one willing to pay."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 592,
      "highlight": "Life is so uncertain: you never know what could happen. One way to deal with that is to keep your pajamas washed."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 621,
      "highlight": "...the closet was empty. There was a limit to how far they could go. They knew the difference between thoroughness and overkill. It was like Jay Gatsby's library: the books were real, but the pages uncut."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 626,
      "highlight": "As always, his attention became focused on his work. Switching channels in his mind made everything else disappear from his field of vision."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 793,
      "highlight": "Nobody's easier to fool, Ushikawa thought, than the person who is convinced that he is right."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 868,
      "highlight": "So he always kept his mouth shut. He kept his ears open and listened closely to whatever anyone else had to say, aiming to learn something from everything he heard. This habit eventually became a useful tool. Through this, he discovered a number of important realities, including this one: most people in the world don't really use their brains to think. And people who don't think are the ones who don't listen to others."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 879,
      "highlight": "...children's unity is stronger than you might think..."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 879,
      "highlight": "There is always just a thin line separating deep faith from intolerance..."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 912,
      "highlight": "In this affluent, self-satisfied, elite family, he was the foreign element, the sour, dissident note that ruined the familial harmony. In family photos he looked like the odd man out, the insensitive outsider who had pushed his way into the group and had his picture taken with them."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 913,
      "highlight": "Like the king whose touch turned everything to goal, every single word he uttered turned into insipid grains of sand."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 913,
      "highlight":  "Before he had realized it, these exercises had given him the talent to be skeptical about his own self, and he had come to the recognition that most of what is generally considered the truth is entirely relative. Subject and object are not as distinct as most people think. If the boundary separating the two isn't clear-cut to begin with, it is not such a difficult task to intentionally shift back and forth from one to the other."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": "927-928",
      "highlight":  "One time, as the cold wind blew and she kept watch over the playground, Aomame realized she believed in God. It was a sudden discovery, like finding, with the soles of your feet, solid ground beneath the mud. It was a mysterious sensation, an unexpected awareness. Ever since she could remember, she had always hated this thing called God. More precisely, she rejected the people and the system that intervenes between her and God. For years she had equated those people and that system with God. Hating them meant hating God."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 928,
      "highlight":  "But this isn't their God, she decided. It's my god. This is a God I have found through sacrificing my own life, through my flesh being cut, my skin ripped off, my blood sucked away, my nails torn, all my time and hopes and memories being stolen from me. This is not a god with a form. No white clothes, no long beard. This god has no doctrine, no scripture, no precepts. No reward, no punishment. This God doesn't give, and doesn't take away. There is no heaven this sky, no hell down below. When it's hot, and when it's cold, God is simply there."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 931,
      "highlight": "The God that protected her was also, at times, a bloody God."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 946,
      "highlight": "Writers have to keep writing if they want to mature, like caterpillars endlessly chewing on leaves."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 946,
      "highlight": "But I can't tell the difference between what's important and the price you have to pay. It has all gotten too complicated."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 1037,
      "highlight": "His father had simply decided to die, or else had abandoned the will to live any longer. To borrow Kumi's phrase, as a \"single leaf on a tree,\" he turned off the light of consciousness, closed the door on any senses, and waited for the change of seasons."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 1039,
      "highlight": "The person had, after all, just accomplished the personal, profound feat of dying."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 1045,
      "highlight": "\"What's the one thing you can do best?\" \"I don't know,\" Tengo said, looking straight at her. \"I honestly have no idea."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 1075,
      "highlight": "It's a terrible thing when a person dies, whatever the circumstances. A hole opens up in the world, and we need to pay the proper respects. If we don't, the hole will never be filled in again...The hole can't be left open...or somebody might fall in"
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 1075,
      "highlight": "But in some cases the dead person has secrets...and when the hole's filled in, those secrets are never known."
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 1075,
      "highlight":  "certain secrets can't be left behind"
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "location": 1077,
      "highlight": "The owl is the guardian deity of the woods, knows all, and gives us the wisdom of the night."
    }
  ]
}