Book Review: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami


Japan's most widely-read and controversial writer, author of A Wild Sheep Chase, hurtles into the consciousness of the West with this narrative about a split-brained data processor, a deranged scientist, his shockingly undemure granddaughter, and various thugs, librarians, and subterranean monsters--not to mention Bob Dylan and Lauren Bacall.

This book has everything any reader looks for: imagination, magic, human interaction, myth and even some math and science. At first, I had no idea what on earth was going on, but then everything started making sense in their own strange way. Paying more attention to the title might have helped me in the beginning, that I must admit. You see, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World are actually two separate places. I'm really not spoiling anything by telling you this, by the way, since the chapters are also divided between the two places. Also, no character names are revealed, but in the end you'll get to a certain point that if you met one of them somewhere, you'd know they were one of the characters from this book.

The nameless main character, who's also out narrator, is a human data processor. For someone like me, he has a very interesting job, but other than that he's a simple man with simple man problems. When he gets a new job processing data for a scientist who's working on natural sound reduction, his life changes. But then again, how you interpret that is entirely up to you, which is one of the things I loved most about this book.

The alternate reality, 'End of the World,' was my favorite of the two. The main character has to leave his shadow while entering this town, and when people's shadows die, their soul dies with them. It's up to the gatekeeper, who seemed to me to have all the power, to let people see their shadows. Main character's shadow tells him he should draw a map so they could plan an escape, but it's the end of the world and there's no getting out of there. Or, is there? I'll let you find that out on your own.

I got really, really excited when the main character got assigned the 'dreamreader' job at the End of the World. At first I thought he would read a journal of people's dreams or something. How very naive of me! What he gets to do is read the dreams that are stuck inside unicorn skulls. Yep, dreams inside unicorn skulls, and you get to read them. How exciting is that? How he does that, though, you'll once again have to find out on your own.

All through the book, you can feel which Western authors and stories and musicians etc. have inspired Murakami. If you know your popular culture, there will be a lot more surprises in it for you, like Police (the band) playing in a cab at the End of the World. Maybe my mind is tiny and weak, but these kind of things most definitely blow it. Although the book takes place in two different places, the stories come together at times, exploring consciousness and unconsciousness inside the real-and-imaginary world that Murakami creates.

My only problem with Murakami is how he uses way too much detail. I thought it was something specific for this book. When you're making your main character read dreams from a unicorn skull, you have to create the world in which it's possible to do that. Yet, in most parts, detailed descriptions of things that didn't have much significance seemed to drag longer than I'd like them to. Having recently finished Sputnik Sweetheart, another one of Murakami's novels, I see that this is something he just does. I'm so not a fan of that, but that won't stop me from checking out the rest of his books, and it doesn't make his writing any less brilliant.

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