Book Review – Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is a story of two parts and two worlds, a story that encapsulates two very different sides of Haruki Murakami’s writing. One part: a Tokyo muchly similar to contemporary Tokyo but with a cyber twist, where our narrator lives a life typical to all Murakami’s male narrators in their 30s or so. He lives alone, he likes his beer, he whips up delectable snacks at the drop of a hat, he loves his jazz and his western culture. However, as is also often the case, our narrator is about to get himself embroiled in the most unusual of situations. Enter Murakami’s propensity for the slightly off-kilter reality. Our narrator is a Calcutec – a human data processor – and his latest project sees him navigating a secret underground cavernous world at the centre of Tokyo, leading to the secret lab of an eccentric old man, aided by his granddaughter. Add in some inklings – threatening, stinking fishy kind of creatures – lurking in the dark and to be avoided at all costs, and we are well and truly in Murakami territory. This is where Murakami is at his short and neat writing style, with witty, dynamic and often westernised dialogue, propelled by a sense of suspense and adventure. 

The alternating chapters take us to a place called the Town, and this is where the writing and atmosphere slows down, becoming more lyrical, dreamlike and interrogative in nature. While the Calcutec world is in standard past tense, the dreamworld is in present tense, further enhancing the timeless quality to it. The Town, surrounded by a great wall, falls somewhere between a mediaeval and old industrial-style place, falling into disrepair, where the few remaining people have no shadows, golden beasts graze, and this world’s narrator’s job is to read dreams from skulls. 


This was my first Murakami around 20 years ago and this re-read reminded me of why I love this book, and the author, so much. Wildly imaginative storytelling, full of philosophical meditations, and a novel that leaves you delightfully with many questions. Exploring themes of memory and identity; technology and ethics; psychological and philosophical questions of the mind and the cognitive system, of consciousness and the subconscious; of what makes us who we are, and what we become without that. Remains a firm favourite for a reason.

***

First published in 1985 by Shinchosha, Tokyo, my edition was published by Vintage in 2003 and translated from Japanese by Alfred Birnbaum.

***

Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto, Japan, in 1949. He grew up in Kobe and then moved to Tokyo, where he attended Waseda University. After college, Murakami opened a small jazz bar, which he and his wife ran for seven years.

His first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, won the Gunzou Literature Prize for budding writers in 1979. He followed this success with two sequels, Pinball, 1973 and A Wild Sheep Chase, which all together form “The Trilogy of the Rat.”

Murakami is also the author of the novels Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the WorldNorwegian WoodDance Dance DanceSouth of the BorderWest of the Sun; The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle; Sputnik SweetheartKafka on the ShoreAfter Dark1Q84; and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. He has written three short story collections: The Elephant VanishesAfter the Quake; and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman; and an illustrated novella, The Strange Library.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: