Friday, January 15, 2016

1Q84 | Aomame X Tengo | BOOK 1

Oh, boy.  Oh, joy.  Oh, what-the-Hell-I-like-this-book.
I decided to open 2016 going after my bigger books.  This includes omnibus editions containing a set of series entries of some sort.  Which is exactly where Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 lies.  Containing a total of three books, I recently wrapped up the first entry.  And have yet the precise words to describe the experience.  I don’t think there any concrete words.  Yet, not to suggest I didn’t enjoy the experience–because I did.  And a lot more than my previous–and introductory–reading of Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance.
I just don’t know exactly how to put the experience into words.  So perhaps a quick summary would get my thinking juices flowing.  Or one could hope.
So here’s what 1Q84 is about.  Which is only right for me to walk you through this summary alongside myself.  The little synopsis/premise I collected previous to picking the book (over a year ago) were kind of misty on its direction.  The book itself throws all these terms at you to describe your approaching experience.  Romance.  Mystery.  Fantasy.  All to name a few.  And it’s all those descriptions–in some gradient of each over another.  But I found those descriptions useless, for those grappling with engaging with the book.  To me, the book is a surreal reading experience.  One you have to take in without–I guess you could say–a concrete overture to rely on.  Funny how many Japanese writers put me in this frame of mind after venturing through their books.
The story alternates between two third-person narratives.  Of course they'll eventually float into the same literary space of Tokyo, 1984.

Aomame Goals
The first narrative consists of a thirty-year-old Japanese woman name Aomame.  Now Aomame struck me as the inconspicuous Japanese woman I've seen time and again in books and dramas.  She has the familiar light, meek and polite exterior to her.  Though it's clear she comes rounded with uncommonly rough and deep debilitating edges.  Yet, not so debilitating where she's weak.  Given the right conditions and triggers, and you'll have inverted access to Aomame.  Watch almost any Japanese psychological thriller and you'll see the likes of Aomame.  Or read something by Natsuo Kirino
So Aomame opens her story stuck in a taxi, boxed in traffic.  She's impatient, having set out to meet an individual for a timed and delicate appointment.  It's an appointment she cannot miss.  And for reasons you'll have to consult your moral compass over as it unfolds.  (Personally, I found myself shocked.  Not so much by the otherness of Aomame.  Because I assumed she was "into" something from the jump.  Instead more so over her chosen direction, and how abrupt it served me as the reader.  Exhibited so early in the novel, it killed off any surface concerns I had for her development.  While exciting me at the same time for Murakami's study of her.  I know I continue to speak in vague terms, but Aomame's otherness added this “pulp fiction” quality to the roster of 1Q84's description.  So I have to reiterate the use of surreal to describe the book as well.  You don’t know what to expect; there are plenty of surprises to look forward to the more you read.) 
Each of Aomame's narrative sweeps reveal more information on her.  Some information just may leave you in disgust for her character.  But whether it tackles her exploitative/apprehensive nature, or otherworldly concerns, it shapes her.  Still, there's plenty to regard over her as Murakami delves into her habits, principles and dark self-reasoning.  And the more she relays her past, the better you see the line between her current activities and mind frame.  I cannot wait to see where the rest of Aomame’s story goes.  Murakami throws a lot at you with Aomame.  Yet all the crazy, unpredictable focus doubles throughout the narrative of Murakami’s second lead.
Tengo Goals

Tangled and operating–at this early point from a distance–next to Aomame’s story comes Tengo.  Tengo is a twenty-nine-year-old cram school language teacher and mathematician.  Despite many labels underneath his professional belt, his true passion lies in writing fiction.  However, he's an inspiring author who hasn't landed his break just yet.  Until now.  And here's how his dilemma in 1Q84 begins... 

So Tengo's story opens with him inside a cafe awaiting a meeting with his colleague, Komatsu.  After confronting another haunting flashback from his childhood, he manages to pull himself together before Komatsu shows.  Komatsu is a literary magazine editor who's called on Tengo for a special project.  He wants Tengo to rewrite (or ghostwrite) a short story for a literary magazine hosting a contest strictly for amateur writers.  (I may be incorrect in stating it was an amateur writers' contest, given the anxiety to the two have over the ghostwriting issue.)  It's a prestigious magazine, where first place guarantees accelerated status and popularity.  Something Komatsu longs for considering his patchy reputation in publishing.  But where did Komatsu find this piece of fiction he wants to assign to Tengo to rewrite?  And what does the story mean by Little People coming out of the body of a goat?  Who is the original author or the short story?  The answers lie in a meek, quiet fourteen-year-old girl with an interesting past.  A past in which she insists her writings consist of her own, factual experiences.  
Filled with potential, but in strong need of polishing; Tengo reluctantly agrees to ghostwrite her story.  His reservations are clear, though.  If word gets out about his role in the contest, he chances 86’ing himself from a publishing career.  Troubling but validating for him, the short story wins the contest.  Furthermore, his ghost written story finds national publication and distribution.  Meanwhile, the original author goes missing.  Leaving Tengo in search of her to contain the book's secret, as it continues to rise in popularity.  In turn, Tengo's once quiet life begins to spiral.  And the deeper it swirls, the odder it becomes.  Just as Murakami did with Aomame, the sculpting of Tengo's past aligns with his present so clearly.  I mean, he really dives into the two and pulls out ever piece of background information to shape them and draw their parallels.  So Tengo has plenty of strange and unusual surprises underway as well.  Strange and usual from both his character (just as Aomame) as well as the circumstances he find himself surrounded by as the story unfolds.
Will the Book Turn On?
And these are just the tip–very tip–of each characters’ story/journey.  Now Murakami spends a bold amount of time setting up the stage for Aomame and Tengo in the first book of his trilogy.  That's true.  Necessary considering the trilogy's length?  I would say yes, if you think about the two alternative narratives carrying three books.  So it takes a fair amount of dedication to keep track of every aspect of Aomame and Tengo's character.  From Aomame's love of middle-age, balding men.  To the stories of her religious upbringing.  To Tengo's complication obsession with mother figures.  To his commanding father rejecting him.  The two given backgrounds and developed nuances both operate in this surreal story.  Really, as parallels bound to unfold later in both predictable and unpredictable ways.  
Yet, those backgrounds/nuances are repeated and drilled into the reader.  That's true.  It may be frustrating for some, because repeats tangles with the direction you're lead to believe Murakami is taking.  So a hefty dose of repeated information can propel an already questionable plot only so far.  Almost to a complete stall.
But to me Murakami's set-up had the right amount of pace and clarity to keep me absorbed in the book's sometimes dreamy tone.  I never felt bored by whatever information given–repeated or otherwise.  Instead, I only wondered where it would lead in the book's "system" and what was it for.  (According to some reviews, I may find disappointment in no answers.)  Take for instance Aomame witnessing two moons.  Or Tengo's search for the Little People.  Bounce those curious elements against the complications of their occupations and I'm left drawn. 
I can understand if some readers may see the first book as slow, repetitive, and boring.  I would dare also say it isn’t for readers easily bored by a casserole dish of character study.  Or many seemingly fortuitous concepts–some ridiculous and contradicting–swaying like kites on threads.  It’s one of those books you have to take for what it is.  While leaving what questionable reservations you have about the author’s direction elsewhere. 
I don’t know where the second book will lead into, but as far as the first, I’m on board.  I’m not hard to please and remain open-minded during the experience.
So my resounding thoughts on the book is to take it in stride and an open-mind.
At least for the first book.  We'll see where this goes!

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