Behind Murakami’s Mirror

Baxter_1-120811_jpg_230x787_q85Charles Baxter in the NYRB:

Early in Haruki Murakami’s new novel, a character describes to an editor at a Japanese publishing house a manuscript of a novel that has come to his attention, and what he says sounds like a preview of the book we are about to read:

You could pick it apart completely if you wanted to. But the story itself has real power: it draws you in. The overall plot is a fantasy, but the descriptive detail is incredibly real. The balance between the two is excellent. I don’t know if words like “originality” or “inevitability” fit here, and I suppose I might agree if someone insisted it’s not at that level, but finally, after you work your way through the thing, with all its faults, it leaves a real impression—it gets to you in some strange, inexplicable way that may be a little disturbing.

After arriving at page 925 of 1Q84, the reader is likely to see an analogue. In this book, Murakami, who is nothing if not ambitious, has created a kind of alternative world, a mirror of ours, reversed. Even the book’s design emphasizes that mirroring: as you turn the pages, the page numbers climb or drop in succession along the margins, with the sequential numerals on one side in normal display type but mirror-reversed on the facing page. At one point, a character argues against the existence of a parallel world, but the two main characters in 1Q84 (Q=”a world that bears a question”) are absolutely convinced that they live not in a parallel world but in a replica one, where they do not want to be. The world we had is gone, and all we have now is a simulacrum, a fake, of the world we once had. “At some point in time,” a character muses, “the world I knew either vanished or withdrew, and another world came to take its place.”