Saturday, November 05, 2011

Diacriticism

The first page of the US edition of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 is annoying me – well, I say the first page, but 1Q84 is clearly A Publishing Event, with all the bells and whistles and publicity budgets that entails, so you only get to the first page once you’ve negotiated the Chip Kidd cover, with its translucent dust cover that reminds me of New Order’s Low-Life album, and a title page that stretches over eight pages (each character in the title being repeated, with one character per page), and a quotation from the song ‘Paper Moon’, and page that reminds you that this is book one of a trilogy, and that’s not to mention the photographs of the moon and clouds, and the page that just says “HARUKI MURAKAMI”, black on white, in case you’d overlooked the prominent mention on the cover and somehow thought you were buying something by Julian Barnes or Zadie Smith or Malcolm Gladwell or Katie Price – then, only then, do you get to the first page. Although it’s actually page 3. And, on the offchance that you haven’t yet had enough of the cleverness, the “3” is printed backwards. That reverse, I’m guessing, is deliberate. I’m less sure about what happens when we get to discussing Janáček.

The action, you see, begins in a taxi on an expressway in Tokyo in 1984, and Leoš Janáček’s Sinfonietta is playing on the radio. The passenger, Aomame, muses on the circumstances of its composition and first performance, in 1926, which was also the beginning of the Shōwa era, the reign of Emperor Hirohito. The first couple of times the composer’s surname is mentioned, it’s as above, with the correct Czech diacritics in place, including the háček or caron, that upside-down circumflex thingy above the “c”. But then something goes a bit wrong in the typography department, and the next couple of times the háček has slipped sideways, so “Janáček” becomes “Janáˇcek”.

And that annoys me. Now, before anybody points a finger, I’ll admit that I’ve written books that contained mistakes. I’ve attributed a Schopenhauer quote to Nietzsche, allowed in a couple of stray exclamation marks, written “Columbia” when I meant “Colombia” (or was it the other way round?) and confused a Leonard Cohen novel with a Madonna song. On the other hand, my books weren’t quite so keenly awaited, their release didn’t coincide with the author being tipped for the Nobel Prize, and Chip Kidd didn’t do the cover.

On the other other hand, maybe it isn’t a mistake. After all, we are informed that the book is called 1Q84 because the Japanese for “nine” sounds like “Q”, so they carried the pun over into the translation, even though it doesn’t work in English, so maybe it will turn out that the disconnected háček has a meaning that I haven’t yet disinterred. I doubt it though. Incidentally, some people have taken to calling the book IQ84, beginning with a letter rather than a number, which may appear to make more sense, but probably doesn’t.

Fans of Murakami who haven’t yet begun the book may care to note that the first page contains no Miles Davis references, no cooking of spaghetti, no talking cats and no disturbed teenage girls into non-penetrative sex.

That said, regular readers of this blog (who will know that it takes its title from Murakami) must surely be delighted to know that there are another 922 pages to go.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Dr Chris Brooks, who once devoted a two-hour tutorial to the first sentence of Great Expectations. Flood update: watching, waiting. And here’s Janáček, trumpets and diacritics and all:

4 comments:

Martin said...

I'm not familiar with the work of Murakami, although after reading this post...

Will add to my list.

Rol said...

I love reading Murakami, but I generally feel I should stop about 2/3rds of the way through as his endings generally leave me vaguely disappointed.

Perhaps I'll only read IQ84 books 1 and 2 and leave it there.

looby said...

The orchestra looks like it's just come down from doing the soundtrack to the German entry for the Eurovision Song Contest in 1972.

Thanks for the Janacek - I love that intro. It's just so exciting to hear a piece where the brass takes centre stage rather than the strings.

Tim Footman said...

I'd suggest start with one of the slightly less weird ones, Martin (South of the Border or Norwegian Wood, maybe) unless you can cope with talking cats and raining fish from the off...

Actually I like his endings, Rol, because they just end, without needing to resolve anything.

Good, isn't it, looby. Wonder if old J was into colliery bands.