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.

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