By Haruki Murakami
Volumes 1/2, 624p; Volume 3, 368p, Publisher: Harvill Secker, 2011
THE UN-ORWELLIAN PLACE
I like science fiction that is a bit offbeat, not overly technical but strong in terms of the human element. Above all what I look for is a strong vision. Like clairvoyance that sees beyond the ordinary world. Is the author a hack who takes an arbitrary “what if” scenario to its logical conclusion, with some good characters in the mix? Or does the author have the vision of an alien? Does he or she see farther than most of us? Do we have a poet and bard who challenges our “consensual reality” to present a vision beyond the ordinary? Among such authors I would include David Lindsay (Voyage to Arcturus), Margaret Atwood (Year of the Flood), William Gibson (Neuromancer) and Doris Lessing (Canopus in Argos series).
I’d have to add Haruki Murakami’s Windup Bird Chronicles and 1Q84. There’s not a lot of “science” in Murakami’s fiction. 1Q84 is a double narrative by a man and woman who once met at the age of ten, and yet throughout the book’s 800 pages they feel each other’s presence. The novel begins with the woman, Aomame stuck in aTokyo traffic jam in 1984. To avoid missing her appointment (she’s a professional assassin) she climbs down a fire escape from an overpass to the city level, only to find herself in a world, superficially similar but different in small details. She calls that world 1Q84. This isn’t your run of the mill “alternate history” book. The world of 1Q84 has two moons, though only she and a few others who have contact with her can see it. The man, Tengo, ghost-writes a fantasy novel by Fuka-Eri, a dyslexic woman. A book that ends up a bestseller. Fuka-Eri says it’s a work of fiction — but perhaps it’s closer to her autobiography. Her world contains two moons, little people who appear out of sleeping people’s mouth and who weave a silver chrysalis that is copy of that person. Soon both Aomame and Tengo are immersed in that world. She is in hiding from members of a religious sect, out to avenge the death of their leader. Her only hope is to find the mysterious boy whose hand she held when she was ten, whom she cannot forget, and to return with him to the world we call 1984.
While 1Q84 is a great read, a book that will hold your attention, does it break the conventional mold? It’s technically flawless and with memorable characters but in the end it speaks about the world we know. For a journey to a totally different world Windup Bird Chronicles takes you there in fewer words.