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Barth vs. Murakami: This Time It’s Metafictional

Having just expressed my (lack of) admiration for John Barth’s “Lost in the Funhouse” last week, I have found myself having “Funhouse” flashbacks as I read Haruki Murakami’s
1Q84.
Before I move on to the general superiority of Murakami’s novel (which I will confess I haven’t finished yet), allow me to revisit my objections to Barth’s work. It’s not that I think Barth a poor writer. Instead, I believe him to be a quite fine writer who felt compelled to parade technical innovations that just don’t work. Essentially, we have a writer needlessly foregrounding the metafictional aspect of his writing, reminding us that there’s a writer writing a written piece of writing behind the writing that’s been written for us to read.

In Murakami’s latest work–by all accounts his best to date–the metafictional aspect again comes to the fore, yet in the case of this novel, these things actually have a place in the work. They add to and, to some degree, create the work. 1Q84 is a take on 1984, the year in which the story takes place and the novel that lurks constantly in the background. One of the two stories that make up the novel revolves around the rewriting of a novella that may or may not be based on actual events. The other story involves a woman whose reality seems to be morphing before her eyes, as if Winston Smith were making revisions deep in the Ministry of Truth only to have those revisions burst into reality.

I mention this not to kick again at Barth but to demonstrate that I’m not averse to those who use the latest formal innovations so long as those innovations actually make their work more effective.

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