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

Some people, myself included, just don't completely get Murakami. His storytelling style is in turns psychedelic and wildly unrestrained, but also carefully directed. It works for some people, and it falls miserably short for others.

There is so much contention on what Murakami's "best" and "worst" novels are. One person will claim one novel completely turned him off Murakami, while others will point to that same novel as what drew them to Murakami in the first place.

What I can really draw from all the debate is that you need to be in a certain mood and mindset to enjoy certain books by Murakami. In my case with Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, the meandering and dreamily emotional storyline hit the bulls eye for what I didn't know I needed.

Plot Summary

This book is split between parallel storylines. The first is set in contemporary Tokyo and told from the perspective of a somewhat average yuppie. Except, this yuppie is a “Calcutec,” a human data processor/computer who uses his subconscious to encrypt data. He gets assigned to work for a mad scientist type, who not only specializes in “sound removal” but suspiciously reminds me of an insane Santa Claus. This assignment, however, sets off a string of events that gets him embroiled in a corporate information war, the savage “Inklings” who dwell in the sewers of Tokyo, and the impending end of the world.

The second storyline tells the tale of a traveler, who is in the process of becoming a citizen of a walled city called “The End of the World” (also mapped in the front page). In order to enter, the narrator must be severed from his Shadow. As he goes about his Dreamreading duties—which is reading the dreams of unicorn skills—it becomes apparent that his Shadow is his only remaining clue behind where he came from and what he is meant to do.

My Reaction

This is an incredibly complex novel, one that I plan on rereading later with a fresh mind. Similar to Kafka on the Shore, I haven't really quite figured out the entire novel. But here is what I know about Hard-Boiled…or at least, what I think I know. Hard-Boiled is:

-filled with a unrequited yet unselfish longing for meaning in life
-deceptively unassuming in prose, but still emotionally potent
-a gentle story that touches upon the nature and purpose of our existence
-a love story, though I feel this point is highly debatable

Now, for potential readers who have little idea of the rabbit hole into which they are about to fall, let’s talk about what Hard-Boiled is not:

-a character-driven novel; rather, like in Kafka on the Shore the protagonists are tabula rasas, defined and shaped by external forces, even if they are fundamentally connected to these forces
-a sci-fi novel... actually, the shallow exploration of experimental neurology and computer science is quite hokey and falls short of being within the realm of applicable possibility, more "fringe" science than not
-straightforward—trust me on this one

I found that the ending to this novel was one of the best and strangely complete endings I’ve read. Surprisingly, for the type of story it was, the story came full circle by the final page with many loose ends tied up. The finale was a melancholy yet uplifting tone.

Though I love this book to death (it’s made my all-time favorites list, in fact), I hesitate to recommend it to everyone. As I mentioned before, you need to be in a certain mindset to enjoy a Murakami. But if you found the above description of the book interesting, it may be an extremely worthwhile read.