Since I first started reading 1Q84 I’ve been trying to precisely determine what it might be in Murakami’s prose that makes him such a popular—and highly regarded—writer. The words ‘ease’ and finally ‘casual’ kept coming to me: his prose has an almost—but not quite—chatty feel to it, because it is so casual and in many ways so effortless to read. Everything that is stated is stated frankly and directly, there is no nuance and little suggestion. Even when characters meet and talk to each other they understand exactly what the other is trying to say. So much so that, for example, when Tengo meets Fuka-Eri and Professor Ebisuno the plot is very neatly and tidily updated—between pages 330 and 340—as Tengo doesn’t so much listen to the man who has summoned him to a private meeting as tell the Professor what the Professor wants Tengo to know:
“By ‘they,’ I suppose you mean the Sakigake people?”
“But you must have some sort of plan in mind, I would think,” Tengo said.
“I do have some sort of plan in mind,” Professor Ebisuno said.
“May I guess what it is?”
“Of course you may.”
Tengo goes on to tell the reader through this stage conversation with Professor Ebisuno exactly what the Professor has in mind. Tengo interjects from time to time his complete understanding of everything the Professor means to tell him. And in this way the least trace of dramatic tension between these characters is eliminated. Resulting in a narrative that is in some ways a bit saccharine, despite the presumably purposeful strangeness of events.
While reading from 1Q84 last night I finally hit upon an understanding of this type of prose, which I liken to pop music. Because there is so little in this prose that really—on a line-by-line level anyway—challenges the reader. Even the rhythm of the prose, and the music in these lines, in the sentences, lacks any hint of real (never mind gritty) drama. Everything is just too clean. The words simply pour forth, far too easily, resulting in a trilogy that is 1,300 pages long.
Reading Murakami must satisfy the voracious reader’s appetite the way drinking tepid tap water satisfies the thirst of anyone who is only and merely thirsty and wants to chug it down and quench that thirst. It tastes neither better nor worse, like different wines, distinctive; and certainly not like malt whisky or a truly fine vodka: nothing with a little kick accompanying the pleasure of actually savoring a drink.
And out of this sea of nothingness, this bland landscape, where nothing really distinguishes itself, where none of the characters have any real depth and dimension at all, spring double moons and Little People who climb out of a sleeping ten-year-old’s mouth. They’re about the size of Aomame’s pinkie at first, although soon they become very busy growing:
They climbed down from the bed to the floor, and from under the bed they pulled out an object [an ‘object?’] about the size of a Chinese pork bun. Then they sat in a circle around the object and started feverishly working on it [how so, ‘working on it?’]. It [the pork bun-like object] was white and highly elastic. They would stretch their arms out and, with practiced movements, pluck white translucent threads out of the air [how so out of the air, I mean, out of nothing?], applying them to the fluffy, white object, making it bigger and bigger.
So it’s all fluff? Regardless, and before long,
the Little People themselves had grown to nearly two feet in height.
The only curiosity that I have with regard to what is going to happen next in this novel is that of seeing what it is the author has so leisurely concocted. The fantasy element in this book is of no interest whatsoever to me, and that may merely be my bias. Though I did feel as if the reflection upon our genetic purpose was the sort of fertile line of questioning that might have led somewhere.
Wouldn’t our genetic purpose—to transmit DNA—be served just as well if we lived simple lives…Did it benefit the genes in any way for us to lead such intricately warped, even bizarre, lives?
This is a good question, and one well worth pondering.
A man who finds joy in raping prepubescent girls, a powerfully built gay bodyguard, people who choose death over [blood] transfusion, a woman who kills herself with sleeping pills while six months pregnant, a woman who kills problematic men with a needle thrust into the back of the neck, men who hate women, women who hate men: how could it possibly profit the genes to have such people existing in the world?
But by relying upon this almost summary and puppet-like treatment of possibly complex characters Murakami simplifies everything once again.
In the end the feeling I get from reading Murakami is that this is a writer who writes to please himself, and not only that, but to entertain himself. From one night to the next I can barely recall the few references made to elements or details of either Aomame’s or Tengo’s pasts, not because I wasn’t paying attention while I read but, I think, because even while paying attention while I read there was so little to pick up on. I.e., no subtext. And practically nothing that I could chew on and mull over and look forward to during the next twenty-four hours, before I picked up the massive trilogy again and set it on my lap and carried on reading.
So pop literature it is. Easy listening. With plenty of white and highly elastic and expansive filling inside, like cotton wool, only stickier. Like cotton candy really.
(As always, this is only and never more than my humble opinion and I could, of course, be very mistaken. So I apologize to anyone who thinks otherwise.)
Image of Book Cover by by Haruki Murakami; published by Shinchosha – Unknown online image of the cover in question, Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23045360