Those who think there is no room in the current market for lengthy literary novels will feel pretty silly when Murakami’s new novel 1Q84 breaks all sales records. This book has already sold a million copies in Japan. A million copies, people.
Even so, I bet there are some pretty nervous publishing types awaiting the launch date of the English language edition. Murakami has been offering up trendy little literary novels for years now. He has a great following among hip nerds and nerdy hipsters. But this new book looks to be as big as all of the others put together.
We all know that publishers are doing it tough. The intellectual and emotional needs of society are being met by the tiny grabs of information offered by TV, film, the Internet, newspapers and radio. But then the vast majority of literate people have never been regular readers of books. Books just can’t say what they have to say quickly enough to satisfy the needs of the majority. In this climate, publishing a fat literary book, like 1Q84, looks like suicide.
It’s easy to forget that publishing has always been an industry perched on the edge of oblivion. Traditionally, no publisher has ever felt secure. They have only ever been one or two books from bankruptcy. And that is the way it should be. Publishers should stumble through life like drunk problem gamblers, always ready to risk it all for that next big win. That’s when the magic happens. Trouble is, these days, many of them are sitting in rehab at the behest of their finance departments.
Money men don’t like risk. They say they do. All of their dorky gurus talk and talk about being different. But in truth they’re addicted to behaving like everyone else. Publishers who have been overtaken by the finance department have a habit of turning publishing quirks, trends or whims into hard and fast rules to make forecasting easier. Rules like: Fantasy writers must write fat, multi-volume sagas. Teenage girls will always be interested in vampires. Crime writers need to write two page chapters. Romance novels must have tacky covers. Robert Ludlum is not dead. Literary authors always write slender volumes.
Many of the most successful books ever published have bucked the hard and fast rules of the number crunchers. Successful thriller writer Ken Follett was told to take time off when he said he had an idea for a historical novel about a cathedral. He took time off and came back with the manuscript of The Pillars of the Earth. It sold millions.
I’m also thinking now of The Secret History, of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, of Twilight, The Millennium Trilogy… Sometimes it feels like there are more rule breakers than not. But this can’t be true, can it? Think of the millions of mediocre copy-cat books the finance department have given the nod to… And they wonder where the money goes!
I feel uplifted by Random House’s decision to publish Murakami’s 1Q84. Here is a publisher willing to buck a trend. And I think their gamble is going to pay off, big time. Just when I had begun to fear that publishers were going to abandon literature altogether I am offered a book that gives me, and millions of other readers, hope. Not only is 1Q84 literature, it is almost 1000 pages long. That must send a strong message to the naysayers. We love to tweet, we use facebook, we like MasterChef, we watch 3D films and we also want to read big, fat literary novels. Got it!?
Available 1st November, 2011
1Q84: Books 1, 2 And 3
by Haruki Murakami
A mesmerising, epic, utterly involving masterpiece from Haruki Murakami.
The year is 1984. Aomame sits in a taxi on the expressway in Tokyo.
Her work is not the kind which can be discussed in public but she is in a hurry to carry out an assignment and, with the traffic at a stand-still, the driver proposes a solution. She agrees, but as a result of her actions starts to feel increasingly detached from the real world. She has been on a top-secret mission, and her next job will lead her to encounter the apparently superhuman founder of a religious cult.
Meanwhile, Tengo is leading a nondescript life but wishes to become a writer. He inadvertently becomes involved in a strange affair surrounding a literary prize to which a mysterious seventeen-year-old girl has submitted her remarkable first novel. It seems to be based on her own experiences and moves readers in unusual ways. Can her story really be true?
Aomame and Tengo’s stories influence one another, at times by accident and at times intentionally, as the two come closer and closer to intertwining. As 1Q84 accelerates towards its conclusion, both are pursued by persons and forces they do not know and cannot understand. As they begin to decipher more about the strange world into which they have slipped, so they sense their destinies converging. What they cannot know is whether they will find one another before they are themselves found.
1Q84 is a magnificent and fully-imagined work of fiction – a thriller, a love-story and a mind-bending ode to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is a world from which the reader emerges stunned and altered.
Do you love BIG, FAT LITERARY novels, too?
Some of the largest, most voluminous literary novels in recent times have enjoyed great success. I read Freedom by Franzen last year. That was a fatty. Wolf Hall by Mantel won the Man Booker. It was huge. The UK is going crazy, right now, for a rediscovered giant – the enormous Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. Another Grossman, David Grossman wowed critics with the rather large To The End of the Land. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth? And we mustn’t forget the perennial big, bulging literary bestsellers – War and Peace, The Count of Monte Cristo, Vanity Fair, Les Miserables, Middlemarch… the list goes on… Oh, I almost forgot Dickens! David Copperfield, Our Mutual Friend, Bleak House….
What are your favourite literary doorstoppers?