1Q84 (Book Two) – A Brief Chat with Mr. Ushikawa

You, the reader, are seated in a rather uncomfortable plastic chair in a rather depressing-looking room.  Having arrived to complain about Book Two of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, you were shown into this room and asked to take a seat.  The room is fairly dark, despite the sunlight coming in from between the blinds over the window, and it actually takes a good minute or two before you realise that you are not alone…
Over in a corner, a man is smoking a cigarette – as your eyes start to adjust, you see a packet of Seven Stars on the table.  But it is the man, not the cigarette packet that draws your attention.  Dressed in a crumpled old grey suit, which looks like it has spent the last few years screwed up in a bottom drawer, the man is perhaps one of the most unusual (and disturbing) figures you have seen in a good while.  His head has a most unusual shape – lumpy, asymmetrical -, and his bushy eyebrows almost join, reaching towards each other across the wrinkle-lined space above his bulbous nose…

As the smoke from the cigarette drifts over to you, you wrinkle up your nose, ready to ask the man to put it out.  However, before you do, the man begins to speak…

“I do apologise, a filthy habit I know, but what can you do?”  He raises his eyebrows, stubs out the cigarette (on what looks suspiciously like a rubber plant), and walks across to the table.  “I apologise for the inconvenience,” he says, waving an arm languidly around the room, “but we have no better room free at the moment – the Foundation is currently very busy…  Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Ushikawa.”  He leans across the table, offering his hand to be shaken.  You stare at him, unwilling to reciprocate.  “Ah, yes, I understand.”  He drops his hand and sits down in the chair opposite you.  And smiles.  A mouthful of uneven, yellowing teeth appear, like a set of dirty dominoes in a worn black box.  He continues talking, leaning earnestly across the table.

“I understand that you are, shall we say, less than satisfied with the second book, and I fully understand that, I really do,” he smiles, trying to convince you of his apparent understanding with a display of his uneven teeth, “but I think it would be very rash to give up on Mr. Murakami’s work so close to the end.  I do understand,” he quickly spits out, trying to preempt the objection rising in your throat, “that you are a very busy person and that you have a limited amount of time to spend on reading and reviewing – we at the foundation, and my employers, have a great deal of respect for your ability and judgement as a blogger,” – a pause, and another smile – ” however, we feel that perhaps you have been somewhat negatively influenced by certain, shall we say, unfortunate reviews which may have been written recently…”

You shift position slightly in your chair, showing a little impatience at Ushikawa’s manner, but he appears calm and cheerful, unaware of the hostility you are projecting.  He sits back in his chair, puts his hands on his knees and continues with his virtual monologue.  “Now I’m sure that one of your main problems was the pace of the narrative… is that the right word, ‘narrative’?”  You nod, almost involuntarily.  Ushikawa smiles again.  “Yes, that’s right, the slow narrative.”  A pause.  “But, you see, while unfortunate , this waiting was most unavoidable.  Aomame’s meeting with Leader, this was the focal point of the novel, the point to which all roads were leading, and, indeed, from which they all moved away.  It is inevitable, is it not, that the writer would want to create some tension, to give the scene the weight it deserves, no?”

Ushikawa leans forward slowly, spreading his stick-like arms wide in an apparent act of supplication.  You nod your head slightly, and then kick yourself for doing so.  Ushikawa smiles again, that wide, eery display of the mangled ivory, and nods himself, as if in acknowledgement of a job well done.

“I would imagine that another of the issues you may have with the book is one of repetition”, Ushikawa continues.  “The two moons, the scene in the classroom…”, he smiles again, almost a leer this time, “even the rather unflattering descriptions of me and my misshapen head…  But you see, this is a very long book.  I agree, the lengthy speech Tengo gives beside his father’s sick bed, or rather”, he interrupts himself, “a kind of soliloquy, a ponderous recap of all that has happened to him – yes, that may be a little unnecessary…”  He pauses and looks you in the eye.  “I am quite sure that you, as a very intelligent reader and writer, are in no need of such repetition, but you have to think of others, those who do not read so regularly, or perhaps so quickly.  Do you not see a need for a little aid to the memory on occasion?”.
On saying this, Ushikawa tilts his head to one side, shrugs his shoulders and extends his arms to the side, grinning his eery smile.  He holds this pose for what seems like an eternity until, out of sheer embarrassment, you give a slight, barely perceptible nod.  This slightest of movements, however, appears to satisfy him.  He settles back into his chair, crosses his legs and looks up at the ceiling, as if to ponder his next words.  You watch as the yellowing fingers on his right hand move rapidly and smoothly, a somewhat worrying action until you realise that he is playing with an imaginary cigarette…

“Of course,” he says in a somewhat disconsolate voice, “I can see why you may be offended by certain events in this section of the book, events of a, shall we say, sexual nature?”  He glances over at you, raising his large, bushy eyebrows so high that they almost disappear into the mass of hair on the top of his misshapen head.  You squirm in your seat and look away, concentrating your gaze on the rubber plant in the corner.  Ushikawa smiles and carries on.

“Whether you are offended with what happens, or just with the clumsy way in which Mr. Murakami expresses it, I can fully understand, but I can assure you that there is a method in his madness…”.  You look up, intrigued despite yourself.  Ushikawa smirks and says “Yes, I too know a little Shakespeare…”.  He winks, and you slouch down in your chair, wishing you were somewhere, anywhere else.

“Yes, if you read further, you will see that all is not quite as it appears.  The, ahem, intercourse featured is there for a reason, it’s a somewhat pivotal point of the plot.  I do understand that this scene can appear a little distasteful, especially given the age of one of the… participants,” Ushikawa raises his eyebrows again, sending you further into your seat, “but perhaps your cultural sensitivities are a little different to ours.  I am not making excuses, I am just giving explanations.” He shrugs.  “I am merely following the orders of those who employ me…”

You lean forward, and, for the first time, you decide to speak.  “But that’s not really enough, Mr. Ushikawa.  Can’t you explain a little more, enough to make me think it’s really worthwhile continuing with the book?”  Ushikawa sits back and beams, his yellow teeth shining in all their gaping glory.  He waits a moment, obviously enjoying himself, before standing up and leaning towards you.  “If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation…”, he says, and turns towards the door.  As he takes a few steps towards the exit, you decide to ask one last question…

“Why should I trust you, Mr. Ushikawa?”

He stops, turns to face you and stares deep into your eyes.  All traces of his smile are gone; only a tired, time-worn face remains.  He waits, staring until, abashed, you have to lower your eyes.  He sighs and replies, “Well, if you read Book Three, you may well find out…”.  With this, he leaves the room.

You stay seated, Ushikawa’s last words echoing around your head.  And – just as Ushikawa knew you would – you decide to give 1Q84 one last try…

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14 thoughts on “1Q84 (Book Two) – A Brief Chat with Mr. Ushikawa

  1. Gary – Dfinitely time to get reading! I think the stranger the book, the more likely it is to receive this kind of treatment (Murakami, Kafka…) – not all posts need to be straight reviews 😉

    Tanabata – Thanks 🙂 I was going for Book Two Ushikawa, with just a hint of Book Three Ushikawa to finish things off 🙂

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  2. I'll suspend my reading until I read the book, otherwise this wouldn't mean a thing to me, yet and because you are not testing if I read this post properly, I can get away by saying it is brilliant anyway!

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  3. Gary – Unbelievably, you'll only have to wait another day to find out what rubbish I came up with for Book Three 🙂

    Jeanne – Thanks 🙂 It was a fun one to write!

    Jo – Absolutely (but please come back later!).

    Wordsandpeace – It is a good review. I think the general consensus is that '1Q84' is good but not great (and definitely flawed) – although there is a sizeable minority of dissenters 🙂

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  4. Excellent! I really like that kind of review, even if I don't understand everything since I have read the book.
    But I get that if I read the book I wouldn't understand it either.

    So all in all, your review gives a good flavour of the book!!

    Emma

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  5. Thanks 🙂 Ushikawa is a fascinating character (and a persuasive one!), so I thought it would be fun to have him defending the novel, especially as many people had a lot of trouble with Book Two.

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  6. Some might say “superb”; others may say “avoiding giving a straight answer as to whether or not you actually liked it”…

    …somewhere between the two 😉

    Like

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