Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Alfred Birnbaum
Publisher: Vintage International
Publishing Date: March 1993
Number of Pages: 400 pages
Genre: Magical Realism, Scientific Fiction, Fantasy
Hyperkinetic and relentlessly inventive, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is Haruki Murakami’s deep dive into the very nature of consciousness.
Across two parallel narratives, Murakami draws readers into a mind-bending universe in which Lauren Bacall, Bob Dylan, a split-brained data processor, a deranged scientist, his shockingly undemure granddaughter, and various thugs, librarians, and subterranean monsters collide to dazzling effect. What emerges is a novel that is at once hilariously funny and a deeply serious medication on the nature and uses of the mind.
Haruki Murakami has gained quite a following amongst a bevy of global readers. His surrealist depictions and stories is immensely popular. Curiously, I belong to that certain group of onlookers who are still waiting for his works to unfold. Since reading 1Q84, my first Murakami, I am still figuring my way out of his perplexing labyrinthine works. I have already read some of his other works as well but the feeling remains the same. It is with a sense of apprehension that I approached Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, a book I purchased in the hopes of finally unraveling that gargantuan Murakami labyrinth.
In line with his personal brand of interesting storyline, Murakami split Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World into two parallel but distinct narratives related alternatingly. The odd-numbered chapters bore the page header Hard-Boiled Wonderland and was narrated by a Calcutec, a split-brained human data processor. Set in the futuristic Tokyo landscape, the Calcutec earned an assignment for a deranged scientist. This assignment brought him to the heart of the Tokyo sewer where he is on a virtual race against time.
On the other hand, the even-numbered chapters tagged as The End of the World is set in a strange, isolated Town. These chapters were narrated on the point of view of an anonymous newcomer to the Town who was tasked to be the town’s “reader of dreams”. When the dream reader was accepted into the town, his shadow was cutoff because the citizens are not allowed to possess one. Every evening, the dream reader goes to the Library to read dreams from unicorn skulls in order to remove traces of the “mind”.
“Losing you is most difficult for me, but the nature of my love for you is what matters. If it distorts into half-truth, then perhaps it is better not to love you. I must keep my mind but loose you.” ~ Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
Murakami brilliantly laid the groundworks for yet another mind-boggling and epic masterpiece which does not fail to engross the reader’s mind. In a manner that only a literary genius like Murakami can, the book was simply dazzling in its amazing exploration of the concepts of the three levels of the human mind – the consciousness, the subconscious and the unconscious. This take on the human mind is utterly bizarre to say the least but was intricately fashioned in an enthralling and pulsating manner.
A plethora of themes and subjects was utilized by Murakami in concocting this exquisite narrative. The seemingly mundane story actually holds a complex and dense narrative. Even though the story revolved around human consciousness and identity in general, Murakami was simply outstanding in presenting the story in a manner that keeps his readers hooked into their seats from the start until the end.
Murakami is not too shy on fusing various literary genres in his novels and the same could be said in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. While one storyline careens on the realms of scientific fiction, the other leans towards fantasy. In spite of this glaring contrast, the story was delivered in a cohesive and harmonious manner. One might glean that these varying genres and storylines would muddle the story but no, Murakami was able to tie it all up cleanly. He braided the two unique storylines in an ending that is sheer genius.
What is amazing about Murakami is how he always innovates in his works. He used different elements to his advantage, such as elements of time, death, and even romance. Different magical elements like unicorns, tilapia-worshipping sewer people and giant gatekeeper also populated the narrative. The book never failed in fascinating the reader’s imagination in its vivid and colorful display of imagery, something that Murakami is quite known for.
Subtle but thought-provoking nuances were also interspersed all over the narrative. Trademarks that define a Murakami novel were also stamped in the story, most especially Murakami’s not-so-secret love for music. Ironically, the scientist that the Calcutec worked for was experimenting on the removal of sound. There were also numerous references to other books, authors and to literature in general.
The pace and the tone that Murakami adapted for the novel is appropriate in spite of its perplexity and complexity. But what truly stands out is Murakami’s unique writing style. It was consistent and flowing all throughout the narrative. He has an interesting style which makes an interesting plot even more interesting. That is Murakami for you.
In a remarkable manner, Murakami was able to show the glaring contrasts between the three levels of human mind. His imaginative play on this subject is marvelous to say the least. Moreover, in the two abstract and distinct worlds that Murakami conjured, one is given an option to choose which world he would rather exist in – the noisy and confusing world full of zest and vitality but where one’s life is limited or the dull world of tranquility bereft of any traces of effervescence but where one lives infinitely.
“Music brings a warm glow to my vision, thawing mind and muscle from their endless wintering.” ~ Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
In spite of my doubts, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World has proven to me why Haruki Murakami is a master storyteller. This is the first time in seven books (or so) that I can truthfully say that I was able to unravel and appreciate the story even though it is complex and is something that is right out of my alley. It is a complicated story but at the same magical, and fascinating. Its up and down tempo make it a very pulsating and engaging read.
For those who want to experience Murakami’s writing, this book is probably the best place to start because it combines all the elements that make a Murakami book soar without it being too overbearing or overwhelming. It is simply an outstanding read. Haruki Murakami is Haruki Murakami after all. Now, I am looking forward to my next Murakami book or perhaps it is time to reread the other Murakami books that have left me puzzled, say 1Q84 or that proverbial Kafka on the Shore?
Recommended for those who enjoy stories about parallel words, those who enjoy very verbose books filled with endless and vivid descriptions and complex storylines, those who want to start on Haruki Murakami’s works, those who are devout Murakami fans, those who enjoy mind-boggling plots, narratives and writing styles, and those who enjoy surrealist reads.
Not recommended for those who prefer straight and uncomplicated narratives, and those who generally have a distaste for surrealism or any kind of literary genre-bending.
About The Author
To know more about Haruki Murakami, click here.