Book Review: Mouse Guard: Fall 1152

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The mice struggle to live safely and prosper among all of the world’s harsh conditions and predators. Thus the Mouse Guard was formed.

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, by David Petersen

Following a conversation about graphic novels in the lunchroom, my coworker generously lent me Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 from his collection. I’m not a huge fan of graphic novels, although I do enjoy the few that I’ve read – namely Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. I also loved manga when I was younger, but as I’ve grown older my reading tendencies have focused mostly on non-illustrated fiction. As a non-expert on graphic novels, I’m not sure how valuable my opinion on this work will be, but since this blog exists to chronicle my reading journey, I thought it’d be interesting to share.

That being said, I enjoyed the art style of the book immensely. Unlike the previous graphic novels and manga that I’ve explored, Mouse Guard uses a minimal amount of words. The mice, while appealing and cute, are still realistically drawn, as are the landscapes and other animals. Overall, Petersen does a lovely job at capturing the gentle and bountiful aesthetics of autumn, while still imbuing certain scenes with a necessary sense of foreboding. At times, I found it difficult to trace the sequence of action between the panels, especially with the lack of dialog and sound effects, but once I was used to the style of the book, it was easier to follow.

Although the artwork is lovely, I found the story itself rather bland, especially after having delved into much more complex feudal fantasy works. According to Google, this is the first book of the series, and I didn’t feel like I developed enough of an attachment to the characters to care about them. The reader is thrust into the story immediately, without really getting a sense of the different personalities of the main members of the mouse guard. In terms of appearance, the mice differ only in their fur color and cape color, so it became difficult to tell them apart. The story seemed mostly plot-focused, without any significant character development, which is usually what I look for in books. If you’re looking for a straightforward action adventure, though, you may be more satisfied.

YES OR NO?: NO. I personally did not find this book memorable, although I’m not an expert in the graphic novel genre. Still, I can think of several graphic novels that I found more enjoyable than this one by providing a thought-provoking plot and relatable, distinct characters. Although I enjoyed the art style of this book, I wouldn’t necessarily seek out the later volumes in the series.

 

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

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Most human activities are predicated on the assumption that life goes on. If you take that away, what is there left?

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami

It’s been roughly two weeks since my last post. Looking back on the blog’s earlier days, I’m astounded that I had time to read a whole novel and draft a blog post in a week’s time. But to be fair, I had more time to myself at the time, with a long commute that gave me plenty of time to read a chapter or two everyday. I recently moved out of my parents’ house for the first time (!), and now my time is filled with laundry, cooking, and cleaning: “adulting”, as the kids call it.

Still, I can always make time for Murakami. This is my tenth Murakami novel, leaving me with only three left to dive into (Hear the Wind Sing; Pinball, 1973; Dance Dance Dance). It’s been a few months since I read Murakami, and I happened to chance upon this novel while wandering the stacks at my local library so I gladly picked it up.

Like the title and cover suggest, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is split into two parallel narratives told in interspersed chapters. At first, the two worlds seem quite different. In Hard-Boiled Wonderland, the unnamed narrator is a divorced man in a somewhat modern Tokyo (the novel was published in 1985), going about the everyday life of a working man (although one with a peculiar occupation). The End of the World, meanwhile, seems to be taking place in some sort of post-apocalyptic world, in a town gentle yet ominous. The prose of the two stories is quite different as well. The narrator of Hard-Boiled Wonderland is relatable and humorous (including many mouth-watering descriptions of homestyle Japanese cuisine), while the End of the World is much more dreamlike and ethereal.

As you might expect, though, the two narratives are not completely separate. Murakami’s novels often introduce parallel narratives that converge (1Q84After Dark, etc.), but I personally thought this novel employed this technique to the best effect. It’s difficult to describe this without giving anything away, so I’ll just forge ahead.

Anyone familiar with Murakami’s works will recognize his repeated motifs in this novel: the solitary narrator who is irresistible to women, libraries as troves of information, the nourishing comfort of food, and so on. As this is a relatively early work, these motifs are still in their early stages. I personally found the narrator refreshingly different from other Murakami heroes in that he seemed more confident and did not linger on his loneliness. It helped that the mystery of his story (the hard-boiled aspect) helped keep me focused on the plot, which progressed somewhat logically. I would recommend this novel to someone who has heard of Murakami but hasn’t necessarily read any of his works yet, as it would serve as an enjoyable introduction to his other works.

YES OR NO?: YES. A quick read, this novel is a delightful but thought-provoking blend of Murakami’s realist and surrealist styles. If you’re anything like me, this book will leave you wanting to live in its world: a world where everyone is well-read and well-versed in pop culture. Added bonus: Murakami splashes in a lot of his own book recommendations through his characters, so now my TBR list is many titles longer. Overall, a solid read, although somewhat less insightful than his more involved works such as Kafka on the Shore.