Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the WorldI think I say this all the time, but I do love my book clubs. I love having a reason to finally read a really good book or to trash a really terrible book with like-minded people. I especially love finding books like this one that I probably would never have heard of in my entire life except that my friend wasn’t allowed to make us read one of Murakami’s 800-page books and so she chose this one.

At first I was like, what the heck is this. There are two stories, both referenced in the title, that alternate back and forth and are both very weird in their own special ways. In the first story, we have a nameless protagonist (everyone’s nameless, actually, in this book) who is something called a Calcutec who is basically a one-man Enigma machine and earns his living encoding things without really knowing how… Murakami’s explanations basically exploded my brain here, but once I decided to just go with it everything was much better! Anyway, he gets called on this assignment to encode some information for a rather eccentric old man who works in an office that is… difficult to get to, let’s say, and once our protagonist takes said job even weirder things start happening with dudes stalking him and unicorn skulls making weird sounds and it’s all just… weird.

The other story should be weirder but actually makes more sense — in this one another unnamed protagonist is living in a strange town where people have to shed their shadows before entering and then get assigned jobs (what is this, The Giver?) like, in our guy’s case, reading dreams from skulls. The idea, I guess, is to let your shadow die off and then you live a happy shadow-less life, but our friend’s shadow may have other plans when it comes to that.

So… it’s weird. It’s very weird, in that Japanese way that so much Death Note has more or less prepared me for. But it’s also pretty fantastic. You know I’m a sucker for a good back-and-forth narrative, and it’s even better when the two stories start to show their interconnectedness, and it’s even more better (just… whatever) when things in one story start making you question things in the other story as well as your own existence. It’s one of those, and I love those.

I really don’t know what else to say about this book… I suppose if you wanted to you could dissect this book in all sorts of different ways and come up with Grand Thoughts About The Universe, but really I just enjoyed letting the story do its thing. Maybe you will, too?

Recommendation: For people who like a good punch to the brain every once in a while and are due for one.

Rating: 8/10

8 thoughts on “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami

    • Alison says:

      I do believe it is! I’ve been meaning to hunker down with 1Q84 but it’s a bit intimidating… maybe I’ll keep going with some of his shorter works first? 🙂

      • Lucybird says:

        Sounds like a good idea. I didn’t get on so well with 1Q84, I read the first book at the beginning of last year and haven’t picked it up again since.

        Kafka on the Shore is my favourite so far, but I haven’t read Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World so I don’t know how they compare.

  1. Cory Hersh says:

    What an excellent way to put Murakami’s writing: a punch to the brain. I mean, I love the man’s work dearly, but I can’t read too much of it without going a touch crazy. I had to take a two-month break in the middle of 1Q84, for instance. I thoroughly support just letting the story do its thing.

    • Alison says:

      Yeah, I had absolutely no trouble setting the book down and doing something else for a little while, but I definitely wanted to come back and find out what happened. When I finally get around to 1Q84 I’m thinking I’ll try to read the three volumes separately so as not to go bonkers. 🙂

  2. Carl V. Anderson says:

    This is one of my favorite Murakami works. I read it a couple of years ago and was sucked right in. Both narratives work really well and are different enough that I often go back and forth about which is my favorite. Murakami can be a challenge if a person hasn’t experienced his work but doing what you did, just going with it, makes for some really incredible reading adventures. I’m so glad you enjoyed this one. His short story collections are really outstanding as well.

    • Alison says:

      Murakami’s challenging reputation is definitely something that kept me from actually sitting down and reading his crazy-long works, so I was glad that this book seemed pretty friendly! I will have to check out his short stories; I can only imagine that they are fantastic. 🙂

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