Murakami’s scifi homage to Marcel Proust

There aren’t many science fiction novels with the nerve to riff on Marcel Proust.

In fact I think 1Q84 might be the only one.

Part of Haruki Murakami’s success is his skill at reworking science fiction concepts – alternate realities, secondary worlds & mumbling sheep men – via the toolkit of literary fiction.

Yes…it’s true that the characters of 1Q84 do spend volumes 2 and 3 of the trilogy isolated and alone in a room with their thoughts. But this is one of the story’s greatest strengths. I did say it was a massive Proust homage!

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The thing the novel can do better than any other narrative media is situate us, the reader, within the inner experience of the character. Proust’s genius was to capture the circularity and illogic of how our inner worlds operate, especially when we are alone, remembering things past. Murakami plays the same game in a slightly more accessible version, with a thread of suspense around whether his characters will escape the mirror reality he has trapped them in.

It’s an oddity that more science fiction novels aren’t more literary in their writing. Science fiction movies and tv are often at the cutting edge of filmmaking. Of course there are exceptions like Ballard or Delany. But taken as a whole science fiction is strangely detached from literary technique.

Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

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