Warning: BookTalkII assumes an audience that has already read George Orwell’s 1984, and attempts to compare the classic dystopian nightmare against both the novel 1Q84, written by Haruki Murakami, and V for Vendetta, a graphic novel by Alan Moore. Broken into twelve parts, each part of the BookTalk will focus on a chronologically new section of 1Q84 and V for Vendetta while considering the entire narrative of 1984. See the BookTalkII main page for more details and links to all twelve parts.
Spoiler Alert: This part covers the first three chapters of Book 3 of V for Vendetta and chapters 1-6 of Book 3 of 1Q84 (up to page 823).
Ushikawa is so mean, yet he is consumed by meaninglessness. Ushikawa is the third wheel. Ushikawa is the O’Brien of 1Q84. Like the behind-the-scenes, mid-level bosses of any lethal organization, he enforces the actions that make the real antagonists look justly. In 1984, O’Brien was the Inner Party member that physically applied the government’s force upon Winston Smith; he is the one that tortures the main character for a third of the novel, in order for him to accept that 2+2=5 and why we should all love Big Brother.
What would be the government of 1984 without characters like O’Brien? Why would an audience fear Big Brother if he is never seen and no harms come about? No, you need a mean bodyguard that is not afraid to get his hands dirty for the very purpose of intimidation. It is because of O’Brien that the audience can only imagine Big Brother to be a figure to fear. Monster movies illicit intense horror by concealing the monster for as long as the audience will allow – whether it be a shark fin above water, or an ominous shadow on the wall, the thrill is in the anticipation. This is why we hardly have an image of Big Brother in 1984 and why the Leader in 1Q84 is equally shrouded in darkness. This is why we almost reflexively cringe at the thought of O’Brien in 1984 and why Ushikawa is equally shocking and dangerous.
The novel 1984 consists of three books. Book 1 is all about Winston, from mostly his point-of-view. Book 2 is more of a story about Winston and Julia, a romance and a thriller. And Book 3 is all about O’Brien. He is the interrogator from hell that locks you into Room 101, where your worst fears are put upon you. If you accept the ending of 1984 as an anti-climactic, soul-crushing win for totalitarianism – one in which we awake from our slavery only to be convinced of our inevitably true desire for it, as if our acceptance was not needed anyhow – then you also see the character of O’Brien as winning overall. He breaks Winston and even the reader too.
Haruki Murakami takes the three book pattern of 1984 and multiplies it. First, he strengthens the character of Aomame, the female lead, to an extent equal to the male lead. Book 1 of 1Q84 starts with alternating chapters of Aomame and Tengo. This continues throughout Book 2. Then, Book 3 opens and Ushikawa strikes the page. Book 3 alternates between all three characters in a consistent pattern similar to that of notes harmonizing, the author definitely makes a chord. The audience can only shake at the potential for Ushikawa to ruin a happy ending. Any time in Book 3 he can end the romance and take out either Aomame or Tengo. Ushikawa could destroy the whole thing, if he can only spare himself.
Truly Ushikawa’s downfall is himself, just as Aomame could easily end herself as well as Tengo diving into a vacuum somewhere in the Town of Cats. All three characters are fleshed and bared by this point of the story. For all the musical references ringing through Books 1 and 2, Book 3 sounds of a canon.
Continuing the 1984-1Q84 comparisons, an incinerator nestled in the Sakigake compound, the headquarters of the radical religious cult of 1Q84, resembles a super-sized “memory hole.” Indeed, unwanted individuals could be “vaporized” in the world of 1Q84, just as in the world 1984, never to be seen again as if they never existed. Of course to be vaporized, or “irretrievably lost,” would be a relief from the agonizing jails populated by demented officers – whether they be as unctuous as O’Brien, or severe as Buzzcut and Ponytail. Even Tengo and Aomame suffer in traps of confinement.
Literally, Aomame is confined in a hideaway apartment, through Book 3. She passes her time reading, among other things, Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time.” Recommended by her guardian and friend Tamaru, the book helps to pass the time as well as preserve it. The nature of paradox and the paradox of nature collide when Tamaru tells Aomame about Stalinist Zen.
“Wherever there’s hope there’s a trial,” Aomame said.
Tamaru was silent again for a moment, and then spoke. “Have you heard about the final tests given to candidates to become interrogators for Stalin’s secret police?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“A candidate would be put in a square room. The only thing in the room is an ordinary small wooden chair. And the interrogator’s boss gives him an order. He says, ‘Get this chair to confess and write up a report on it. Until you do this, you can’t leave this room.'” (Page 769)
Meanwhile, Tengo interrogates himself, if not a wooden chair or an empty hospital bed, or just an elderly man lost in a coma, a vacuum all the same. Tengo’s father lies inert in a remote sanatorium. He questions what it means to be alive and where the line between life and death exists. He reads his stories aloud to an unknown, and possibly absent, audience. Nonetheless, Tengo summons “Shakespeare,” calling upon a great spirit, or ghost, to make sense of this.
Most likely, the NHK collector that threatens Fuka-Eri and Aomame draws its phantasmagoric powers from Tengo’s father trapped in a purgatory of sorts. Or maybe it’s just an illusion. At the end of the day, Ushikawa knows how reliable a stressed source can be.
Nobody’s easier to fool, Ushikawa thought, than the person who is convinced that he is right.
… what other talents do I have worth mentioning? Do I have other abilities I can be proud of?
Not one, Ushikawa answered himself, convinced he was right.” (Page 793, 797)
All it takes is just one little man to break the silence. A man with a napoleon complex can knock down the right domino. V’s got access to Fate, he’s clairvoyant.