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

Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is not an easy novel to read, and not because the language is complicating, although there were a few parts where things got quite technical. That aside, I found it tough because every night when I settled in to bed to get some reading done, I could feel myself being drawn to sleep just a few pages in, even when I wasn’t all that sleepy to begin with. And it’s not that the story was boring, either. The premise was intriguing. This book just made me very sleepy, and I found myself having to meet my target page reads on my morning rounds instead.

Having recently read Norwegian Wood, South of the Border, West of the Sun and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, I have to say that there is a marked difference in the way this story ‘sounds’. The voice of the novel – told by a singular character existing in two different dimensions – is a lot less internal, pensive and retrospective. In fact, one could almost call this book ‘fast-paced’ in contrast to other Murakami stories, although it is certainly no less strange. The main character does have similar traits to Murakami’s other male main characters though – he reads a lot and listens to jazz, although this time he’s more of a tech guy and it doesn’t seem to have gone to university to study literature.

Murakami himself must be an avid reader of classical literature, as his stories often refer to themes and characteristics of books ranging from Dostoevsky to The Great Gatsby. I haven’t read much (or any) of these novels though, so I can’t say if there are similar themes within those books and Murakami’s, even if only fleetingly.

Back to Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, there’s an unasked question that doesn’t seem to be answered, and if it was, I didn’t notice it or immediately forgot about it. What was the main character’s name? In fact, what was any of the character’s names? I Googled my question and I was right – none of the characters in this novel had names. Instead, they’re referred to as the Scientist, the Granddaughter, the Gatekeeper, the Librarian, etc. And in this own odd little way, allows some of these characters to be linked across the protagonist’s two existences.

While some questions do get answered as the novel progresses, bear in mind that this is a Murakami novel. Things don’t end the way most novels do – with a happily ever after tied up in a neat little bow. In fact I’m not even sure if the story actually ends. If the protagonist’s mental existence ends. Or if the story carries on in each reality after the book ends. And I’m okay with that.

I have to admit though that this probably wasn’t my favourite of everything I’ve read of Murakami’s so far. It’s not bad, mind you, I just liked others better. I can’t say exactly which is my favourite, but 1Q84 definitely ranks among the top.

So should you read Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World? If you’re a Murakami fan, of course. If you’re not, but like strange stories, why not? Bonus… there are unicorns in this book, but not of the cotton candy variety that’s so popular nowadays.

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