In a small unnamed village in Hungary, a handful of people are waiting to be rescued from the trappings of their crumbling surroundings. There’s the d...moreIn a small unnamed village in Hungary, a handful of people are waiting to be rescued from the trappings of their crumbling surroundings. There’s the doctor, a drunkard who keeps tabs on his neighbors by keeping a separate notebook for each in which he feverishly jots down the minutia of their everyday lives along with his own color commentary. There are the local prostitutes who sell themselves cheaply at the abandoned mill. Meet the trio comprised of the disabled man Futaki, Mr. Schmidt, and Keleman, all of whom scheme to rip each other off when they aren’t busy trying to find new ways to coerce Mrs. Schmidt into the sack that is. Oh, and let’s not forget the young mentally disabled girl and her cruel older brother. Yes my friends, everything is rotten in this undisclosed location, not just the inanimate objects.
Just how conscious is each of us of our own consciousness? That’s the rather strange question author Haruki Murakami attempts to answer with his 1985 novel “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.” The results are a bit of a mixed bag.
Murakami is known for being a master of the magical realism genre, but here we find him at a period in his career where he’s still attempting to find his footing. Far too much time is spent explaining the “why” behind what is happening in a way that’s both highly scientific and highly science-fictional. Having read his later work, like the brilliant “Kafka on the Shore” and “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” this book seems far less bizarre and far more straight-forward then both the author and publisher would like you to believe.
In terms of reviewing this novel, it’s much easier to think of it as two separate narratives that eventually meet at the end. You’ve got “Hard Boiled Wonderland” taking place during the odd numbered chapters and “The End of the World” taking place during the even numbered chapters.
In “Hard-Boiled Wonderland” we find ourselves follow the journey of a nameless narrator who is Calcutec by trade. Calcutecs are described as human calculators who can use their subconscious to encrypt and store data. They work for “The System,” which is run by the government, and is directly opposed by a group known as “The Semiotecs.” Think of the “The System” as the group that wants to protect your data and “The Semiotecs” as the hackers who want to steal it from you for their own gain.
The narrator is given an assignment by a strange aged scientist that sets him down a twisted path of self-discovery and awakening. He’s aided by both the scientist’s granddaughter and a librarian.
In “The End of the World” we happen upon an unnamed narrator as he prepares to enter for the very first time a perfectly walled town situated at, you guessed it, the end of the world. In order to enter the town however, he must first agree to have his shadow cut from him by “The Gatekeeper,” a decision he may come to regret.
Once in the town he is assigned the job of a “Dreamreader” and is aided by a librarian to carry out this task. He meets other nameless character’s along the way, such as “The Colonel” who aides him when he falls ill and “The Caretaker” who runs the power station.
The closest comparison I can come up with to “The End of the World” would be Kafka’s unfinished work “The Castle” in which the character known only as “K” fights through roadblock after endless roadblock to gain access an audience with the mysterious authority figures who oversee a village where he has been contracted to work.
Eventually the two stories move closer to being one, but along the way, to make things a bit more magical, both unicorns and INKlings (they’re described as a type of Japanese water sprite) appear. Murakami does a fabulous job making it all believable, but as I mentioned earlier, to the detriment of the story, he spends far too much time explaining the universes he’s created.
“Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World” is interesting in that it seems to serve as a well thought out blueprint for the paths Murakami would explore in later novels with much greater results. If you’ve never read any of his work this may even serve as a great starting point (though it is a bit dated) because it really isn’t as much of a head scratcher as his later period pieces.(less)