sunnuntai 19. helmikuuta 2012
Haruki Murakami: 1Q84
Q is for "question mark." A world that bears a question.
Aomame nodded to herself as she walked along.
Like it or not, I'm here now, in the year 1Q84. The 1984 that I knew no longer exists. It's 1Q84 now. The air has changed, the scene has changed. I have to adapt to this world-with-a-question-mark as soon as I can. Like an animal released into a new forest. In order to protect myself and survive, I have to learn the rules of this place and adapt myself to them.
It took me several months to read Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 - not only because the book is a whopping 925 pages long with its three volumes, but also because I enjoyed savouring the story at a slow pace, concentrating on the language and details of Murakami's story.
The novel starts with a beautifully written scene: a young woman named Aomame is riding in a taxi in Tokyo, listening to Janáček's Sinfonietta which is playing on the car radio. Her peaceful drive is interrupted by a traffic jam on a highway, and it looks like Aomame will miss her important appointment in Shibuya because of the delay. Unless she is willing to do something a little... extreme. She climbs down a stairway used by maintenance workers that leads down from the highway to the streets below. But once she has climbed down, Aomame realizes that the world is not the same anymore.
Although the quote above makes 1Q84 sound almost like a scifi novel about an alternate universe, it's not. 1Q84 is a parallel place that does not differ so much from "our" world, the world of 1984. In fact, the differences between the two worlds are so small that most people do not even notice them at first. Like the fact that there are two moons in the sky...
While Aomame struggles to cope with the new world that she finds herself in, an up-and-coming writer Tengo receives a strange offer: a beautiful, socially incompetent teenage girl has written about her experiences in a closed religious cult and it is up to Tengo to ghost-write the girl's writings into a novel that is bound to win all the literary awards. Undertaking this job brings Tengo in touch with a cult that is as secretive as it is powerful.
The novel is packed full of intriguing and mysterious characters. There's the wealthy, old lady who manages a shelter for abused women; a private investigator who is so ugly that nobody suspects that he knows more than it appears; a television fee collector who relentlessly pesters those who have not paid their fee; a pair of bodyguards who do not hesitate to do their duty... There are very dark elements among the colourful cast of characters, as Aomame describes:
A man who finds joy in raping prepubescent girls, a powerfully built gay bodyguard, people who choose death over transfusion, a woman who kills herself with sleeping pills while six months pregnant, a woman who kills problematic men with a needle thrust to 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 this world?
Despite these brutal and violent characters and themes, the novel is ultimately a love story - as most great novels are... :) I can understand why this has been called Murakami's "magnum opus", his greatest work to date. The novel is packed full of all the goodness that makes Murakami an amazing author: believable, interesting characters; a plot full of surprises and twists that unravels slowly; tension that builds up and keeps you riveted and eager to see what comes next; events that border on the surreal, the magical; and language that you can only admire. I think I've said this before, but reading a book by Murakami is like visiting a familiar place: you can sit back and relax and know that you will be in safe hands, always entertained, never disappointed.
At one point in the novel, Aomame reads the novel ghost-written by Tengo, and describes the language of the novel in a way that I think also applies perfectly to Murakami's own writing:
While the writing was deceptively simple, a closer look revealed that it was in fact calculated and arranged with great care. No part of it was overwritten, but at the same time it had everything it needed. Figurative expressions were kept to a minimum, but the descriptions were still vivid and richly colored. Above all, the style had a wonderfully musical quality. Even without reading it aloud, the reader could recognize its deep sonority.
Somehow I don't think that 1Q84 will be translated into Finnish any time soon, although it certainly would deserve it... Perhaps the recent translation of Norwegian Wood is a sign that Finnish publishers are (finally!) also discovering some of Murakami's earlier novels - and there are quite a few of those still left to translate. :)
Haruki Murakami: 1Q84. Knopf. 2011. 925 pages.
Originally published in Japanese as 1Q84
Translated by Jay Rubin & Philip Gabriel