Monday, November 07, 2011

Murakami and Marcel

The world of Haruki Murakami's novels is always crowded with items from Western culture--references to jazz albums, books, and movies abound. But I think 1Q84 wins the prize for my favorite reference, partly because the two gentle jokes that accompany it made me smile. It comes in a telephone exchange between Tamaru, a skilled bodyguard, and Aomame, a woman who is hiding out in a safe house under his protection:
"I think I have everything I need."

"How about books and videos and the like?"

"I can't think of anything I particularly want."

"How about Proust's In Search of Lost Time?" Tamaru asked. "If you've never read it this would be a good opportunity to read the whole thing."

"Have you read it?"

"No, I've never been in jail, or had to hide out for a long time. Someone once said unless you have those kinds of opportunities, you can't read the whole of Proust."

"Do you know anybody who has read the whole thing?"

"I've known some people who have spent a long period in jail, but none were the type to be interested in Proust."

"I'd like to give it a try," Aomame said. "If you can get ahold of those books, bring them the next time you bring supplies."

"Actually, I already got them for you," Tamaru said.
Jokes aside, there is thematic resonance in the selection of Proust, as Murakami's novel deals quite a bit with the mutability of time and the desire to recover lost moments. Aomame goes on to read In Search of Lost Time, diligently and attentively, and she does appreciate it, though she has trouble--reasonably--understanding the lost world of French salon culture that Proust describes. She tells Tamaru,
It's like reading a detailed report from a small planet light-years away from this world I'm living in. I can picture all the scenes described and understand them. It's described very vividly, minutely even. But I can't connect the scenes in that book with where I am now.
"It's not boring," she tells Tamaru,
It's so detailed and beautifully written, and I feel like I can grasp the structure of that lonely little planet. But I can't seem to go forward.
Instead, she finds herself constantly having to go back and re-read sections to understand them. But perhaps, she thinks, in the limbo in which she finds herself, waiting into the future for a visitation from her past, that mode of reading is right for her,
rather than the kind of reading where you forge ahead to find out what happens. I don't know how to put it exactly, but there is a sense of time wavering irregularly when you try to forge ahead. If what is in front is behind and what is behind is in front, it doesn't really matter, does it? Either way is fine.
Finally, she lights on a regular preoccupation of Murakami, and of this novel, the distance that necessarily separates us from others:
"It feels like I'm experiencing someone else's dream. Like we're simultaneously sharing feelings. But I can't really grasp what it means to be simultaneous. Our feelings seem extremely close, but in reality there's a gap between them."

"I wonder if Proust was aiming for that sort of sensation."

Aomame had no idea.

"Still, on the other hand," Tamaru said, "time in this real world goes ever onward. It never stands still, and never reverses course."

"Of course. In the real world time goes forward."
Except, of course, as Proust knew, when it doesn't, or when its relentless forward motion is made a mockery of by the palpable loss that is the past and that we carry with us, at times almost unbeknownst to ourselves, and that occasionally springs to such undeniable life that it takes over our present, or even our future.

A final note: don't let Tamaru--who is a wonderfully drawn character, a highlight of the book--fool you. You need not wait until you're jailed or on the run to read the whole of Proust. It's always there for you, funny and moving and insightful and unforgettable. Ask your favorite bodyguard for a set today.

1 comment:

  1. I've just started to read Swann's Way after having recently read a few of Murakami's books. I noticed that Proust refers quite early on to 'the Little People' ....