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Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami April 10, 2009

Posted by ayasawada in Books.
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Murakami’s Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is in a way his foray into fantasy-type storytelling. There’s even a Lord of the Rings-style map at the start of the book!


The plot, well, there’s really two. One is set in a mysterious walled-off village where Unicorns roam the fields. An unnamed stranger arrives to work as a ‘dreamreader’. In the second,  a Tokyo man, some kind of data-manipulator for the government, does a job for a mysterious research scientist, which leads him into a world of espionage, intrigue and fable.

The second one will be familiar to Murakami fans. You can imagine the protagonist already, can’t you? Loner who likes jazz and old movies, very intelligent, knowledgeable, good cook. You can imagine the female characters as well, can’t you? Beautiful, sexy in a believable way, but ‘quirky’. There’s nothing wrong with that. Far from it, it’s what Murakami knows best, and what we as his fans enjoy.

What gives this novel depth and sets it apart from the Murakami novels is that first plotline, the mysterious fantasy world. It’s not until two-thirds of the way through the book that the connection between the two stories becomes clear. And even then it is accompanied by one hell of a scientific explanation (it even needs a flow diagram!). It’s an interesting, and I’m sure tried before, device. But Murakami executes it well. Both worlds are rich with the sort of everyday detail that make his prose engaging. The styles of the two worlds, one chapter of each following the other, complement each other well and stop you from getting bored.

As a science writer, I was immediately wary of the scientific content, coming from an author not normally associated with science fiction or a background in science. But Murakami represents the scientific community surprisingly well. Sure, the theory he describes is nonsense, but he picks up the language of neuroscience and psychology well and he nails the personality and drive of a researcher. And it’s interesting theory, almost plausible, even if it does hurt your head to try and understand it. How much more accurate does it get than that?

There’s a lot of interesting ideas here, which from the Wikipedia entry, seem to have been collected from his many different literary influences. From losing one’s shadow to the essence of consciousness, industrial espionage and Japanese folklore, it makes for fascinating stuff. It’s not my favourite Murakami novel, but I really enjoyed it. For me, the central theme is the point of life and what you’re looking to get out of it. The main character wrestles with issues of mortality and existence. He concludes that its the small things in life, the things that you enjoy and make you you, that are what makes life worth living. A simple, and unoriginal, point, but one always worth making.


1. watermaid - April 10, 2009

I read this book some time ago – my first by Murakami – it made me want to read more by this author. I’ve just finished ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles’ and I can see now how his thinking led him to ‘Hard Boiled Wonderland’ and ‘The End of the World’. There’s a character in ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles’, May Kasahari, who settles fora life doing simple things. This book also seem to be dealing with morality or evil (translated ‘defilement’) and existence.

ayasawada - April 10, 2009

I read Wind-up Bird last year. Completely forgot about May. As you point out, the ‘other side’ that is hinted at in there is a little like what happens in Hard Boiled Wonderland. As they say, write what you know!

2. thewritingdeskconundrum - April 10, 2009

I love Murakami when he gets a little crazy. His more ‘normal’ novels like Norwegian Wood are good, but for me he’s at his best when he mixes known reality with some crazy fantasy world. After reading most his books, Hard-boiled is still my favourite! I liked it so much I even wrote a story about it! (http://thewritingdeskconundrum.wordpress.com/polly-2/the-end-of-polly/)

ayasawada - April 13, 2009

I know what you’re saying. I still like his ‘real-world’ novels, but it does get tiresome sometimes reading about essentially the same guy over and over again. He really lets loose when the fantasy stuff creeps in. It’s part of the reason A Wild Sheep Chase is one of my favourite novels: the fantasy balances out the normality in a way.

Nice story BTW :)

thewritingdeskconundrum - April 14, 2009

Thanks! And A Wild Sheep Chase will definitely be the next book I read!

ayasawada - April 18, 2009

Well worth it! Dance Dance Dance follows on directly after, and is also fabulous. There’s more to the saga too, but I hear Murakami isn’t too proud of them and won’t allow them to be translated :(

3. 1Q84 (Books 1, 2 and 3) by Haruki Murakami « Canned Memory - January 15, 2012

[…] of course, and he’s used it to much better effect in the likes of Kafka on the Shore or Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. But it gets a bit more interesting when he introduces a third narrator in volume three, […]

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