Tag Archives: novels

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, review-type thing

How to write about a monster like 1Q84 (official site) without giving too much away?

I suppose I could start by mentioning the things that it isn’t.

It isn’t, ultimately, the crushing disappointment that I feared after Kafka On The Shore or the insubstantial After Dark (which read more like Banana Yoshimoto* than Murakami). It isn’t short. It isn’t, in many ways, difficult to follow or seemingly random. It isn’t lacking in Murakami’s trademarks (erotic sex**, shadowy organisations menacing the lead characters, powerfully felt senses of fate or destiny, transgressive sex, young-girl-psychopomp figures and so on).

So what’s new? Why did 1Q84 ultimately engage me so powerfully where other of his more recent books have left me cold? Firstly, I use the term ‘ultimately’ quite advisedly. One strand of the book constantly references Proust in a way that comes to seem a little knowing, as if Murakami is sending us a clear message about what he’s doing here. The challenges that I imagine Proust offers – I confess I’ve yet to tackle him – relate to the need for the reader to submit absolutely to the writer’s envisioning of another’s inner life and Murakami is quite thoroughly immersing us in the inner lives of three highly contrasting characters at some length and in great detail. The other hint provided by Proust is the requirement of stamina. 1Q84 takes patience and commitment and probably only works for the reader prepared to be enchanted by its steady, rolling flow.

This isn’t a meandering trek through a world of meditation and madelines, however. It does have its own madelines and the memories and past lives of the two lead characters suffuse the text. But 1Q84 is also a thriller and a mystery story, albeit a rather metaphysical one. The stakes are high – the existence of a world, the persistence and transformation of inner lives, the fulfilment of a destiny possibly set in motion in childhood. It’s also a thoroughly unapologetic love story. There’s redemption, death, sorrow, ruthlessness…It is, after all, a very large book.

1Q84 will take patience. I almost gave up half way through. But it rewards the effort. You might want to take a box of tissues along for the ride but I put my Kindle down (it is, after all, a rather heavy book) with a sigh of, well, fulfilment. And more than that, I’m not saying.

*Banana Yoshimoto’s most recently translated book, Hard Boiled, is actually rather good, by the way. But one’s expectations are different.

** Look, most sex in literary fiction takes a positive pride in being unerotic, okay?

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Starting a new novel at lightspeed

Well, by my standards.

Writing has been something that I’ve defined myself by for a very long time. At the age of five, I wrote my first books and comics – they were generally about a page long but what price quantity compared to quality, eh? Throughout my school years, I knew what I was going to be. I was going to be a writer.  I was going to write books, preferably novels.

Something self-evidently went wrong.

I’ve racked my brains about what for a while now and the main wrong turning seems to have been seriously committing to try and become a musician, a job I’m grotesquely unsuited for. I hate networking, get on appallingly badly in any unstructured social situation and am a complete creative control freak. None of these things are an issue if, say, you’re outrageously talented like Prince, but if you’re only moderately talented at best – Lady Gaga, for example – you need a bit more in the way of social skills and capital.  And dress sense. And good looks.

By the time I finally staggered back on course in my late thirties, I was in the middle of a career in new media and began to write a novel on various planes and trains. Eventually, I took six months out to change career tracks and finish it. I did. It isn’t very good – not bad, but not good enough so that anyone would take an interest and, at 130,000 words, way too long for a first publication. Then I set to work on another one. This was interrupted by the arrival of dudelet and the necessity of full-time, steady work.  Nonetheless, I trudged through about 15,000 words and a lot of planning. This was derailed by, firstly, starting a Masters in addition to my job and secondly, the arrival of little elf.

The problem with writing is that it requires time, quite a lot of it and I don’t have any. Or rather, I perceive I don’t have any.  Dudelet, however, has other ideas. I’ll come back to that.

Now Elizabeth at Fog City Writer does regular (great) posts of links to useful, interesting or plain fabulous articles, blogs and resources about writing. One of the items she highlighted in January’s post was Anne Patchett’s article in the Washington Post which basically revolves around the startling discovery that:

The more time I committed to working, the more pages I stacked up.

Yeah, I know. Kind of obvious. But we all know what committing to work actually means – doing some! As parents, carving out even a small amount of regular writing time can seem like an impossible task and the idea of writing a novel becomes something positively Sisyphean in its difficulty – endless, aimless, nameless. We’re talking ants collecting grains of sand from the Sahara, here. We’re talking getting a human being on Pluto. Stopping a toddler whining. And so on.

Patchett also cites a teaching from her yoga teacher about what you do in the first 32 days of the year setting the tone for the whole twelve months.  I don’t have a guru but I do have a six year old and dudelet has decided that I’m not allowed to read him stories any more. I have to make them up. Every night. So I’m making up a novel, something that I suppose slots into the ‘young adult fiction’ category, and each night I’m telling dudelet a new episode. When I’ve finished, I dash off to our bedroom and frantically type out what I’ve told him, summarising where necessary (there are dishes to wash, dinner to be had, a fragment of yoga to be done if I want to be able to keep up with my children in the years to come. And I do like to see supermum occasionally).

Of course, it’s got complicated. Why is this person in a mansion? Why is the man half made of metal? Why? Why? So my commutes, previously devoted to reading high-falutin’ texts (on good days) and iPhone games (on bad days) are now focused on what on earth I’m going to tell him next and working out what this complicated world I’ve sleepwalked into actually consists of. I’ll give you one hint – Jesus never made it big and the Roman Empire became a loosely connected commonwealth. And…Well, the rest’s a secret.

It’s amazing how much time I have when I’ve got the right focus and a tough taskmaster and as I put in the time, the plot summary starts to build up. Let’s hope I can keep it up – I’m starting to get that feeling that I want to know what happens.

I’m also starting feel like a writer again. Well, this blog is called Dad Who Writes, you know.