Translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel
My review of Books One and Two is here.
Published: 2011 by Vintage
My copy: bought on Kindle
Memorable quote: “Nothing could be better than not firing it. We’re drawing close to the end of the twentieth century. Things are different from back in Chekov’s time. No more horse-drawn carriages, no more women in corsets. Somehow the world survived the Nazis, the atomic bomb, and modern music. Even the way novels are composed has changed drastically.”
Some individual instalments from trilogies and even longer series do stand alone, but IQ84 Book 3 is not one of them. Although efforts are made to recap the plot – indeed, a new point of view character is introduced whose main purpose seems to be to divulge details of Tengo’s and Amomame’s past and the strange bond that unites them – I can’t imagine many people would enjoy or understand this novel without bringing with them the emotional attachment to its dual protagonists that Murakami develops in the first two books. Emotional attachment is particularly crucial in fact because – as you might have surmised from my choice of memorable quotation – this is definitely a novel of feeling rather action.
“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” So said Anton Chekov and it’s almost impossible to now to feature a weapon in a literary type novel without recalling -consciously or otherwise – this extremely famous trope (more action-heavy type books can probably manage it, but then I can’t imagine much suspense about whether or not a gun would be fired in a Tom Clancy novel anyway, can you?) Murakami’s engagement is conscious and extended, beginning in the earlier books when Amomame requests a pistol to protect herself from her pursuers, and reaching a crescendo, not with a bang but with the above assertion. Compared to the previous instalments very little happens here. All three protagonists are very static for most of the book, Amomame is holed up hiding from the cult that are pursuing her; Tengo spends most of his time at the bedside of his comatose father, and though Ushikawa – who now gets his own chapters – is following both of them, which does create tension, his methods involve surveillance rather than high octane pursuits.
Is the claim founded that modern novels don’t need the old kind of foreshadowed pay off? In Murakami’s hands – at once accomplished and maddeningly self-indulgent – I would say partly. Although there was a lot of unnecessary repetition, and times I certainly felt like some stricter editing would have been welcome, I was actually surprised by just how much tension could be achieved from three individuals essentially doing very little! But then the “Chekov’s gun” in IQ84 isn’t really Amomame’s pistol, but her interest in Tengo. Initially mentioned as a passing school room encounter this strange connection grows and grows and when it finally detonates the results are strangely satisfying, on an emotional level at least. The novel doesn’t explain so many of the ideas it introduces about its surreal two mooned world, and certainly not about the Little People. Since I finished it my frustrating list of unanswered questions has grown and grown, but at the time the ending really worked for me. Such is Murakami’s power.
In my review of the previous two books I mentioned my frustration with the too-blatant Murakami-isms. So I should probably note that these are considerably reigned in for the final instalments: there’s still far too much emphasis on the size of women’s breasts, but gone is the gratuitous sex, and to a large extent the cats and the Jazz and the Beatles lyrics. This made for a better story, and yet… at times I was struck by how differently Book 3 read compared to its predecessors. Notably, this instalment has a different translator. All of the previous Murakami novels I’ve read have been translated by Jay Rubin so in my mind his voice is Murakami’s. It would be interesting to know just how much the different feel of this volume results from Philip Gabriel’s translation – though I am not about to learn Japanese in order to find out!
In conclusion, IQ84 is a sprawling indulgent mess of a trilogy that somehow also manages to be a gripping joyride into a world of dreams, cults and surreal romance. There are some fascinating ideas examined here, I found myself really caring about the protagonists (even Ushikawa is a plausibly rounded villain who commands a surprisingly degree of sympathy) and for every paragraph that was obtuse, repetitious or worse, both (somehow), Murakami compensates by delivering a simple description of unparalleled beauty: “a ragged line of sparrows sat on an electrical line, constantly switching positions like musical notes being rewritten.” If you are new to Murakami I wouldn’t start with this one (Kafka on the Shore was my, highly recommended, route down this particular rabbit hole) ” but the strange world of IQ84 is certainly worth a visit. Visit, yes, but like Tengo’s vaguely sinister (and similarly inexplicable) Town of Cats you should beware of staying too long.