Haruki Murakami's 1Q84: A Review
HARUKI, MEET THE BEATLES
Had Help! been The Beatles last album, they would be remembered as a fantastic - and I mean really fantastic- pop band. Help!, however, was not even the halfway point in the greatest rock band of all time’s career. Five of their next seven albums, including Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album, would go on to change music forever. Their shift from pop to substance, from formula to formula-destroying, is so much the root of their genius. They were both entertainers and artists.
I recognize that comparing anyone to The Beatles is tantamount to review suicide, but I think there are a few parallels that Japan’s most famous author shares with Liverpool’s most famous band; and not simply because Haruki Murakami named one of his best-known works after The Beatles classic ballad, Norwegian Wood.
Like the Fab Four, Murakami has evolved over his 30-plus-year career from pop-whimsical-writer, to writer of weighty issues. Giving credence not only by winning international awards like the Jerusalem Prize, but also in the short odds Ladbrokes keep suggesting he has of winning the Nobel. Early Murakami novels like A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance, have something very much in common with the powerful and joyous “Love Me Do” type songs that made The Beatles famous. In both artists’s cases, entertainment and fun were first and foremost in the early part of their careers, yet from the outset, they also managed to be wholly original in their respective fields. For instance, Murakami’s debut novel, Hear the Wind Sing, which the author himself would rather you never read, won a first writer’s prize in Japan, for the unique voice and style of its prose.
Then some twenty years and six novels later came The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, and everything changed. Not that the books preceding it were airy-fairy light. Murakami, as he told an audience at the New Yorker festival a few years back, always aims for balance in his work. As such, there has always been the interplay between light and dark in all he has written. For a love story, Norwegian Wood, the best-selling novel of all time in Japan, is really quite sad. It was with The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, though, that Murakami blended his surreal adventures with deep inquiries into Japan’s history, into the very nature of our consciousness and that of evil itself. It was about then that Japan’s literary sensation, who to that point had been a massive commercial success but something of an outcast amongst the Japanese literati (they found his work rather fluffy), became an artistic force to be reckoned with. I turned out that the pop star writer had gravitas. He had something to say. He also, I should add, was being translated into 40 languages around the world by that point.
If The Wind Up Bird Chronicle is Murakami’s Sgt. Peppers, it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider his latest, 1Q84 his White Album. I choose this Beatles double album for its incredible length, for its scope and for its sprawling breadth. Though 1Q84 may well be a tighter story over all (Abbey Road, then?), the wide swath of themes it covers and the 928 pages of actual story you flip through make it a reasonable analogy.
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