Haruki Murakami’s new book, a global event in itself, passionately defends the power of the novel.
By Douglas Haddow
Over the past week 1Q84 – Haruki Murakami’s whale of a novel – was released across the Anglosphere. With midnight openings, queues round the block, magazine covers and unprecedented pre-orders, it received a level of attention typically reserved for established cross-platform franchises.
Unlike the consumers who stayed up late waiting for their download notification, critics have remained cautious in their appraisal. On both sides of the Atlantic, the general consensus is that it is enjoyable and inventive, but not crucial or relevant. The most common slight levelled at Murakami is that he is a cult writer lost in his own hype, a position echoed by the Observer review, in which Tim Adams writes: “Murakami, now 62, has ceased being a novelist and has entered the dangerous world of literary phenomenon, a cult figure himself.”
If you happen to be party to this cult, you might start feeling the creeping sensation that Murakami has, much like he did 25 years ago in Japan, left the literary establishment in the proverbial dust.
To quote the oft-quoted Marshall McLuhan, one of the countless writers who makes an appearance in the book, the medium is the message. In the case of 1Q84, the medium is the “global event novel”, a rare form of literary commodity that allows us to derive as much meaning from its fallout as we do from the ink on the page. It’s a book whose jacket design, for better or worse, received more press than most books get during their entire print run. Its references to the Czech composer Leoš Janáček and Russian novelist Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn led to a spike in sales of books and records the market turned its back on long ago.
Read by schoolgirls and scholars, Murakami is the only living writer who can sell a million copies in a month and still be in the running for the Nobel prize. His unique ability to transcend high and low, east and west is a byproduct of a peculiar career trajectory. When setting out to write his debut novel in the late 1970s, he initially wrote the opening in English, then translated it back into Japanese, an experiment that led to the discovery of his voice.