Friday, November 04, 2011

"A pool of mysterious question marks"

I'm deep in to Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 now, and the desire to return to it--which last night took me on a twenty-minute roundtrip walk from my bus stop to my office, where I'd left it, and back--is going to keep me from blogging substantially tonight.

One thing I thought was worth noting, however, is a section that feels like a brief apology--in both senses of that word--from Murakami for the fact that his novels are often difficult to interpret or pin down to any definite meaning. One of the main characters, Tengo, is reading reviews of the novel Air Chrysalis, which has been published as the work of a seventeen-year-old girl but in actuality was expanded and rewritten by Tengo, and he quotes from one:
"As a story, the work is put together in an exceptionally interesting way and it carries the reader along to the very end, but when it comes to the question of what is an air chrysalis, or who are the Little People, we are left in a pool of mysterious questions marks. This may well be the author's intention, but many readers are likely to take this lack of clarification as a sign of 'authorial laziness.' While this may be fine for a debut work, if the author intends to have a long career as a writer, in the near future she may well need to explain her deliberately cryptic posture."

Tengo cocked his head in puzzlement. If an author succeeded in writing a story "put together in an exceptionally interesting way" that "carries the reader along to the very end," who could possibly call such a writer "lazy"?

But Tengo, in all honesty, had nothing clear to say to this. Maybe his thoughts on the matter were mistaken and the critic was right. He had immersed himself so deeply in the rewriting of Air Chrysalis that he was practically incapable of any kind of objectivity. He now saw the air chrysalis and the Little People as things that existed inside himself. Not even he could honestly say he knew what they meant. Nor was this so very important to him. The most meaningful thing was whether or not one could accept their existence as a fact, and Tengo was able to do this quite readily. . . . Still, Tengo's reading of the story was his and his alone. He could not help feeling a certain sympathy for the trusting men and women who were "left in a pool of mysterious question marks" after reading Air Chrysalis. He pictured a bunch of dismayed-looking people clutching at colorful flotation rings as they drifted aimlessly in a large pool full of question marks. In the sky above them shone an utterly unrealistic sun. Tengo felt a certain sense of responsibilty for having foisted such as state of affairs on the public.
But Tengo--and perhaps Murakami?--is only willing to extend his sympathy and sense of responsibilty so far. The world, Tengo thinks to himself, is a complicated and confusing place, with few answers. Should a novel aspire to be anything less than that, or more than a riveting story?
As a story, Air Chrysalis was fascinating to many people. It had fascinated Tengo and Komatsu and Professor Ebisuno and an amazing number of readers. What more did it have to do?
On a Friday night when I've got 350 pages to go, I'm not going to complain.

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