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Saturday, May 21, 2022

The dual narrative

 One technique Murakami uses (a lot; Hardboiled wonderland and the end of the world, 1Q84, Kafka) is the parallel narrative. Odd numbered chapters tell one story, even numbered ones another, and gradually there is a convergence of the two plots. There is a lot of thematic play in the parallel universes. They seem to be about the same underlying thing, even when they seem to describe separate things. 


Murakami will often tell us directly that things are "symbolic" or "metaphorical." The characters in Kafka talk directly about the Oedipal plot, for example. I groan inside at this signposting.   


Several novels feature a guy about 30, whose wife as left him or who is unattached. He has sex with some emotionally unavailable women without any real romantic interest on his own part. There is often an unconsummated (thankfully) attraction toward a 17 years old girl. He is at a creative crossroads. He is a painter who just paints by commission, not expressing his own voice (Comendatore); he is a novelist who rewrites someone else's novel (Tengo in 1Q84). The implicit plot, then, is how to become a writer; how to channel creativity toward a goal that one desires oneself, not imposed by someone else or on other people's terms. 

He is a lone wolf. He doesn't care much about conforming to Japanese norms of material success. He is also rather aimless, unmotivated, assigned tasks not of his own choosing. This creates a tension in the novels' plots.  He searches for something that he doesn't really desire, or for something absurd. I think of him as the same character (minor differences aside) is each book. In other words, the subjectivity is structured along the same lines. There are various talismanic objects that serve as a bridge between normal reality and something beyond. A painting, a song, a bell, an entrance stone, a unicorn skull, a mutant sheep. 

There is a long shadow cast by WWII and Japanese imperialism; another shadow cast by the failed student activism of the 1970s.  

In short, reading several novels by the same novelist, there is a code to crack. It's not very difficult, assuming the novelist wants you to crack the code and feeds you the information rather directly. What the reader is doing is making sense of things in a kind of structuralist way, figuring out that one object or character  in one novel is the equivalent of another object or character in another novel. 

1 comment:

Thomas Basbøll said...

"There is often an unconsummated (thankfully) attraction toward a 17 years old girl."

Yes, this is a very conspicuous feature of his writing. In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, he uses a telepathic message to tell her she "looks good in a bikini" or something. As I recall, it's even there in his book on running.

I've tried to find some confirmation that it is the hidden meaning of the title 1Q84. How do you pronounce it?