Friday, October 12, 2012

IQ84, by Haruki Murakami

The inventive and playfully imaginative nature of Haruki Murakami’s narratives always impress me.  They unsettle conventional expectations.  They give us a world similar enough to our own that when small discrepancies creep in we at first don’t notice them and in the end are shaken and disoriented.  Of the Murakami novels I’ve read, Kafka on the Shore (2002, 2005)[1] has seemed to me most effective.  It was like a poem, an artfully woven verbal tapestry of words, characters, people, images.  It was as close to dreamlike as one might come in great literature.  Murakami depends on constructing interrelationships between random elements that we wouldn’t normally expect to link to one another‑‑but they do.

IQ84 (2009, 2011), heralded by many as Murakami’s greatly massive masterpiece, seemed to me an intricate, self-indulgent, sometimes perverse, sometimes pointless and tedious, sometimes entrancing and sometimes distracting and monotonous game.  It offered truly interesting characters, especially the novelist Tengo, the woman Aomame, and the weird, unsettling, erotic 17-year-old Fuka-Eri.  A novel of two separate but intersecting parallel worlds, it weaves what I take to be elements of Japanese religion and myth and interweaves them with a love story, sex, murder, intrigue, violence, incest, eccentric human characters, family trauma, and a deeply conspiratorial tale of a bizarre religious cult.  It builds towards a moment of revelation that will bring all the disparate strands together in an explanation that makes sense of the mystery.  But that explanation never comes.  What does come is another kind of resolution, one I won’t consider here so as not to ruin the book for anyone who reads it, but one whose intensity seems at least to justify, for the moment, the 1184 pages it takes to get us there. 

Search as I have, I can’t find substance in this novel.  Meaning, ontological content, signification.  I am wrong to expect this from a postmodern novel, maybe.  But the best postmodern novels are full of meaning.  Or does IQ84 belong to a genre more current than postmodernism, which is old in the tooth?

Norwegian Wood (1987, 2000) and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles (1995, 1997) struck me as steps towards the mature and compelling narrative art of Kafka on the ShoreIQ84 is more an intricate puzzle than a novel.  Despite the final scene, it left me unsatisfied and a bit put out.

And, oh, by the way, there are two moons in the sky.

[1] The first date is the Japanese publication date; the second is the English language publication date.

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