Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

By: Haruki Murakami

Across two parallel narratives, readers are drawn into a world in which a split-brained data processor, a deranged scientist, his undemure granddaughter, and various thugs, subterranean monsters, and a librarian collide to mind-bending effect. Here Murakami explores the nature and use of the mind and where we go to escape inside ourselves. What is real, what is fiction, and are we responsible for the worlds we create?

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is officially the biggest mind-f*** I’ve ever experienced. The story started out confusing but fairly normal, and then it took a total turn that I honestly wasn’t anticipating. It got to the point where I started making notes about the story and highlighting passages in the actual book. I don’t write in my books, so this was a big deal for me. The only way I can describe my lasting impression of this novel is that I both understood the story and understood nothing at all. How is that possible, you ask? I don’t know, and that’s why I’m frustrated.

For starters, this novel is high-concept sci-fi/surrealism in which there’s a lot of “science” talk. Mostly these scientific discussions revolve around the nature of the brain and consciousness, so the story takes time to process and read. I had to take frequent breaks just to make sure I was understanding everything. I literally had conversations with myself in which I tried to explain what was going on so far in the story and what different parts represented. The fact that this story was translated from Japanese doesn’t help with digesting the language because translations always seem to be a bit clunky. Don’t expect to understand everything from this story. Honestly, I don’t think we are supposed to.

This story is another example of one in which characters don’t have names. Everyone is referred to by an identifying adjective or noun like, Grandfather, chubby girl, Junior, and the Librarian. I kept waiting to be told the character’s names until I realized that Murakami was pulling a Neil Gaiman. It was just going to stay that way for the whole novel, but it honestly worked for the surrealism narrative. Even the comedy in this story reminded me, in part, to Neil Gaiman (though Murakami’s was far more sexist at times).

I felt real emotion at the end of this story. It didn’t make me cry, but that’s not the point. I didn’t realize that I had grown attached to the narrative, and the way it ended was honestly painful. Murakami certainly has a unique way of expressing polarized emotions simultaneously while remaining thoughtful and introspective.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is a story that defies explanation and is more of an experience. I would recommend it as long as you are okay with being left with more questions than answers.

Overall rating: 4.5

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