Tuesday, 2 October 2012

My Thoughts on 1Q84: Appearance, Ushikawa & Perfection

Haruki Murakami. From guardian.co.uk.
I've mentioned before that I was a little underwhelmed by 1Q84. It did hold the magic that Murakami inspires into his writing, but the plot didn't seem to be going in a very clear direction. I enjoyed the second book of the series most, and the third book the least (it seemed rather extraneous). This post merely covers my fleeting thoughts about the series, and so I apologise for opinions that aren't properly backed-up or explained (of which there are many, I warn you).

Ushikawa is a great character to write about. He's one of my favourite inclusions of the 1Q84 series, purely because I'm so repelled by him. My way of rating Murakami novels is to consider whether they disturbed or haunted me in any way, and if so, Murakami's writing is at its best. His descriptions of the well in Wind-Up Bird Chronicleand Miu being trapped in the ferris-wheel in Sputnik Sweetheart, will stay with me for a long time, alongside the feelings that were evoked in me. Anyway, moving back to Ushikawa after that slight digression: he really creeped me out.

Ushikawa is not a very attractive character by any means. He has a misshapen head, his face isn't that great, and he repels everyone he meets. However, he did have a pretty wife in the past, and they had children together. Perhaps he was more attractive at that time, and as he became uglier inside his physical appearance deteriorated too. He may, alternatively, have turned repellant after a traumatic event, such as his wife leaving him. Or, quite simply, he made up the bit about wife and kids.

A character also by the name of Ushikawa appears in Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. As they're both creepy and have similar quirks in their speaking, it's likely that they're the same creation. Because of this repetition, does Murakami see an aspect of himself in the character, or does he remind him of an acquaintance, maybe?

Another possibility I considered is that Tengo may have narrated 1Q84. He's working on a new novel that we're not privy to, and 1Q84 as a whole emphasises the act of changing or re-writing history (check out Violet's interpretation at Still Life With Books, which also proposes this idea). If 1Q84 is Tengo's narration, then there's the chance that he uses artistic licence to describe himself. Whilst in writing Tengo is clever, not bad looking, and has an older girlfriend on the side, perhaps this is just an ideal. He may actually have a misshaped head he's trying to pass off onto another character, and is in reality the "true" Ushikawa.

Physical appearance is so important in 1Q84; Murakami's judgement doesn't seem to be spared on a single character. Perhaps there is one exception, however: the Dowager. She's extremely desexualised compared to other female characters - Aomame's short skirts seem to be an essential plot factor, for instance - and has an air about her that makes me view her as a female version of Leader. She exudes a spiritual and powerful presence. On the mention of Leader, I couldn't help comparing him to other political leaders that live low behind mass security, such as Bin Laden. This would have made more sense if Bin Laden's (arguable) assassination had taken place whilst Murakami was writing 1Q84, but it happened afterwards.

If Tengo is the narrator's perfect male, Aomame appears to be the perfect female. A strong-thinking, mini-skirt-wearing, fitness instructor seems a little too good to be true. Rather than being a real woman (well, as real as a fictional character can be), Aomame is closer to being the object of a teenage fantasy. If the narrator is a less accomplished version of Tengo, then adding a beautiful woman to the storyline  seems just about plausible.

Also, there are a whole load of boobies in this novel, which adds to the theory that 1Q84 is the narration of a male fantasy. Tengo is completely fixated with them, which Freud would have plenty to say about, and they contribute to the identity of most female characters in the novel. We're often reminded of Aomoame's awareness that her breasts are different sizes, like the two moons in 1Q84. Fuka Eri has a small build but unnaturally large breasts, rather like the typical female Manga character. Also, she has yet to start her periods. Hmm. I won't go into this, but on the whole breasts form the divide between the male and the female in 1Q84. I don't think that there's an equivalent male body part that is fetishised in the novel: does this make it more likely that the narration is written by a straight male?

Here's another theory that I considered - it's my last, I promise. When I witnessed Tamaru's torture and murder of Ushikawa, I wondered if he also strangled Ayumi. Tamaru says the following:
“'I’m sorry about this,' [...] 'I didn’t do it because I wanted to.'”
If he's committing this murder under the dowager's orders and for the safety of Aomame, then the termination of a police officer's life seems just as plausible. Ayumi may well have been perceived by the dowager as a threat. Ah, so many questions!


2 comments:

Violet said...

It was so funny when IQ84 came out because a lot of us had been eagerly anticipating its release and then it was a case of, "Huh?" I won't be rushing out to buy his next book, that's for sure. :)

Amanda said...

I found it a bit weird that Tengo's older girlfriend and his mother is described to look a lot like each other and that that nurse from the 'cat town' tells Tengo that she has died once by strangulation just as his mother did! It is like these two women somehow is his dead mother.... which is kind of creepy since he has had sex with both of them