Friday, December 9, 2011

A Very Murakami Christmas: Our December and January Selection

All right, book clubbers, we've had our fun with an escapist romp through 80's pop culture in Ready Player One , but we largely agreed it was pretty shallow. So let's tackle the 80's in a more profound (and profoundly weird) fashion with Haruki Murakami's 900+ page opus IQ84.

From what I've gathered, our usual book-clubbers are not particularly knowledgeable about Murakami, even though he seems to be increasingly regarded as one of the world's great living authors. My experience is limited to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (true, it's considered the masterpiece, but my reading was so long ago that it barely registers now).

Perhaps we should all begin with this terrific recent NY-Mag piece, which asserts that the author "has produced, over time, one of the world’s most distinctive bodies of work: three decades of addictive weirdness that falls into an oddly fascinating hole between genres (sci-fi, fantasy, realist, hard-boiled) and cultures (Japan, America), a hole that no writer has ever explored before, or at least nowhere near this deep. Over the years, Murakami’s novels have tended to grow longer and more serious — the sitcom references have given way, for the most part, to symphonies — and now, after a particularly furious and sustained boil, he has produced his longest, strangest, most serious book yet."

Not yet convinced that you need to devote two months to this project? Then try this:

"About halfway through, the book launches itself to such rarefied supernatural heights (a levitating clock, mystical sex-paralysis) that I found myself drawing exclamation points all over the margins."

Yep, that's how we'll be spending January, folks. Join us if you dare.

[Minor spoilers in next section]

As for me, I'm about 80 pages in and enjoying the dual narratives. So far I'm a little more intrigued by the inquiry into the nature and process of art and writing in the Tengo sections than I am by the "down the rabbit hole" tale (in this case, the "down the elevated expressway ladder" tale) of Aomame. But I'm also having a blast wondering what Bananasuit will say about Murakami's creation of his lead female character (Aomame, which means "green peas") and especially a wild scene in which she beds an old dude because she likes the shape of his head and then feels an overpowering desire to kill him.

Let's take a look at this portentous passage in the opening paragraph:

"...he stared straight ahead at the endless line of cars stretching out on the elevated expressway, like a veteran fisherman standing in the bow of his boat, reading the ominous confluence of two currents."

Is this simile also a description of the novel's narrative technique, with its two stories of Aomame and Tengo gradually converging? (at least I'll assume they converge). Or does it suggest the notion of various realities colliding, which seems to be the case so far despite Chapter One's philosophizing cabbie telling us and Aomame (in bold print no less!) that "There's always only one reality."

Folks, this is going to be a wacky ride.


  1. "There's always only one reality." Yes, but is the character saying that in that one reality, or not? If not, can we trust that he knows why he is talking about? And why is it so difficult for me to find really good pecan pie in this town?

  2. Not sure what to make of the philosopher-cabbie yet. I just arrived at the Professor's tale (which begins to link the two storylines?). Loving it.