A daily bulletin of news & opinion

17 July 2010

Japan’s best-selling novel of 2009 was 1Q84, Haruki Murakami’s complex story of dwarves, cults and assassins set in Japan in 1984. Despite being more than 1,000 pages long and split into two parts, it was an immediate sell-out and has gone on to shift nearly 2.8 million copies. To the delight of Harukists, as his fans are known, and the surprise of his editors at Shinchosha, the publisher of books one and two, Murakami then mentioned in an interview last September that he was writing a third part which would be released in early summer 2010.

“We didn’t know anything about a third part until we saw that interview in the Mainichi newspaper,” says Takashi Machii of Shinchosha. “We just hoped he’d publish it with us.” Shinchosha did indeed get the new instalment, and 1Q84 part three has already sold a million copies.

In Japan, where big advances and combative super agents are unheard of, Murakami says little or nothing about his work until he finishes it and presents it to the publishers. As Japan’s greatest literary superstar (and, translated into over 40 languages, its most successful literary export) he is in a powerful position. Unlike most Japanese authors who survive on the income of excerpts and essays published in literary magazines, Murakami, 61, is free to publish where and when he likes. He has switched between publishers in Japan, but seems to prefer Shinchosha for his longer novels. At a time when publishers are dreaming up ways to tempt the mobile phone generation to buy books, Murakami, is a gift.

In Japan the first two volumes of 1Q84 are each selling for ¥1,800 (€16), the third for ¥1,900 – no small investment. While readers in English will have to wait until 2011 for the translation – in a single volume – of the first two books, lucky readers in South Korea were able to buy the first two parts last summer, just months after the May publication in Japan – and bought a million copies – and will be able to buy the third part on 28 July. One online bookstore is reporting that part three has already gone to the top of the bestseller list on pre-order sales alone.

Now Murakami has created speculation that there might still be another volume. In an interview in the current issue of the erudite magazine Kangaeru-hito – The Thinker – (subtitle: plain living, high thinking) Murakami says that although he is worn out after three years spent writing this book, “there is a story to be told before and after” books one to three. By not ruling out the possibility of a part four or even a part 0 Murakami has sent the literary world into a frenzy. 

”Mr Murakami has his own style,” says Machii about the way the star author is publishing his novel piecemeal.

Although Murakami says the books can each stand alone, the whole novel is already running to over 1600 pages, a challenge for the publishers of the eventual paperback. The standard size for a Japanese paperback is a dainty 15 x 10.5cm, perfect for slipping into a handbag or reading on a crowded train. Keeping things diminutive, however, requires books to be divided into manageable sections. Novels are frequently split in two and published in parts, referred to as the top and bottom (and in the case of chunkier books, top, middle and bottom). 1Q84 could end up being like War and Peace and published in multiple small volumes.


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