Finally! I got my hands on a copy of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World yesterday. I've been waiting to find it by chance since June 28,...moreFinally! I got my hands on a copy of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World yesterday. I've been waiting to find it by chance since June 28, 2009 (only officially; surely it's been much longer than that). I digested it in one sitting. Yes, it's that good. It exceeded my expectations, and I expected a lot from what I'd heard about this novel. Now, I've really liked all the Haruki Murakami novels I've read (with the exception of his, um, "magnum opus" The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), and what I felt for Kafka on the Shore came very close to love, but Hard-Boiled beats all of them by a long stretch. This is not only the greatest Haruki Murakami novel I've read, but one of the greatest novels I've ever read, period. It's right up there with Dhalgren and V., and it gets bonus points for being extremely clear to boot.
So what is it about? I can't say. It's far too good to spoil. I will say, though, that I nearly dropped my shit when I found out Murakami wrote this in 1985. 1985! This book is almost 30 years old! The brilliant concept appears in "Hard-Boiled Wonderland"; the brilliant worldbuilding occurs in "The End of the World." Both halves are very well-thought out. "Hard-Boiled Wonderland" contains the usual Murakami fare: seemingly ordinary youngish male protagonist, sexually precocious teenage girl, libraries, erections, lots of American pop culture namedropping, even more American food, etc. "The End of the World" departs significantly from his usual style, and while it starts off a bit slow, this is where Murakami really shows off his range as a writer.
Hard-Boiled is heartbreaking. It's a very particular kind of heartbreak that I've seen in all of the other Murakami novels I've read as well as in manga. I wonder if this stems from something embedded within Japanese culture (yeah, I should know, but I don't). The only analogies I can think of in Western literature are Kazuo Ishiguro (especially The Remains of the Day) and Margaret Atwood. Even then, they're not as obvious about heartbreak. This book does heartbreak extraordinarily well (Kafka on the Shore does a bit better in that regard, but only in that regard). In fact, this book does everything extraordinarily well. It's extraordinary. All I can really do at this point is gush over how amazing it is. I haven't quite recovered yet.
Also: none of the characters in this book has a name. I normally hate this sort of conceit (Vonnegut, whom I otherwise love, does this all the time), but it works very well here. I actually liked the lack of names.(less)
This is a review of (scanlations of) all 12 volumes.
Death Note is amazing. Granted, it's not as much fun after the infamous turning point, but I'd sti...moreThis is a review of (scanlations of) all 12 volumes.
Death Note is amazing. Granted, it's not as much fun after the infamous turning point, but I'd still recommend the whole series to just about anyone. That is, unless you're looking for emotional gratification. While there are relationships here that resemble romance and friendship, they're all illusions. This is a marvelously cerebral story. The art and writing are incredible. The characters actually look like Japanese people (with the exception of Misa-Misa and the characters who aren't Japanese, but um...). Speaking of Misa, this story is very misogynistic. I guess that didn't bother me much because I was so dazzled by the plot (and, to be honest, I tend not to identify with female characters). This is pure excitement. There are very few boring parts, if any, which is quite appropriate for a story about a smart, talented, bored teenager who quells his boredom by trying to emulate a (death) god.
For me, this series is really about the halo effect. Even more interesting than the fast-paced plot and the cold, creative, almost inhuman characters is the exploration of what happens when a killer looks not like what we want killers to look like, but rather a handsome, charismatic, well-educated young man. I was rooting for Light the whole time, way more than I should have, but then again, it's not difficult for me to empathize with bored psychopaths (Tom Ripley, anyone?). But I felt much more akin to L. After I finished I started sitting and holding things just like him.(less)
This is a review of (scanlations of) all 23 volumes. However, I've just bought a few of the books, and the scanlations and official translations are m...moreThis is a review of (scanlations of) all 23 volumes. However, I've just bought a few of the books, and the scanlations and official translations are more or less the same.
About eight years ago, my sister lived with a girl who spent whatever time she wasn't in class watching anime. "She's obsessed with this one called Fruits Basket," my sister told me. "Not 'fruit,' FRUITS. Isn't that retarded?" Of course I agreed. I've been a grammar Nazi since elementary school. Even after learning to appreciate the significance of the title, that S still grates on my eyes/ears.
But! There is a lesson to be gleaned from this somewhat unnecessary backstory: don't judge a book by its cover OR title, because retarded this certainly isn't. And even if it were, it doesn't really matter, because I've become fairly obsessed with it myself.
Basic plot: an outsider tries to save a family of extremely beautiful, doomed people from...future doom. Even more basic plot: a bunch of people fall in love.
It's fairly easy to follow. The panels are clear and expressive. Very few characters have ridiculously huge eyes, and most of the men look like men (emphasis on the "most"). I correctly predicted the major reveal and the romantic inclinations of the protagonists, yet I can't call this cliche. I think what makes it different for me is that it isn't a "romantic comedy," though it's frequently pegged as such. It isn't funny. It's overwhelmingly tragic, but the tragedy makes sense because it's mostly tied to the Sohma curse. Both the character development and plot pacing are excellent. I definitely recommend this over the anime, which, from the few episodes I watched, strikes an uneven, almost absurd balance between comedy, drama, and romance that doesn't exist in the manga.
I have a few qualms with this series, particularly the saccharine ending, but overall, I love Fruits Basket. It gets less cutesy and more serious (i.e. really, really good) sometime in the middle (maybe volume 11?). It's light on the logic but emotionally profound. It's even heartbreaking at times. Forget the huge gap between manga and what people accept as "literature"-- this is a just a damned good story, period.(less)
To relay the life lesson(s) I learned from this book, I must explain.
1. My Japan phase began with...my birth. Haha, no, okay, that's not really funny....moreTo relay the life lesson(s) I learned from this book, I must explain.
1. My Japan phase began with...my birth. Haha, no, okay, that's not really funny. But I've been wanting to read books by nation since I read Natsuo Kirino's Out last summer. I already knew about Haruki Murakami, of course, but I didn't realize there was another famous Murakami (two more, if you count Takashi the artist)--the guy who wrote this book. He sounded intriguing, so I borrowed Almost Transparent Blue from Doe Library at the end of last summer. From what I remember reading, it was horrible. It reminded me of the only novel that ever gave me a headache (which I also didn't finish), Penny Dreadful. That was so bad. This was bad too. Both books try really hard to be edgy and fall flat because they simply aren't creative enough. Or maybe I needed to be high to read them. Whatever.
2. I was sitting in the CED Library later that summer. In fact, I was at the very computer on which I am typing now. I accidentally forgot the (admittedly, quite beautiful) copy of Almost Transparent Blue next to this computer. I freaked out when I realized this and returned the following day, only to find no book and confused library workers. I figured it would eventually turn up since Ryu Murakami isn't exactly a big name here, and, well, Doe and CED are part of the same damn library system on the same damn campus. But NO. It did not turn up. I kept renewing it. I must have renewed it for four or five months.
3. Last semester, in November perhaps, my friend invited me to a party at Stebbins Hall. Her roommate happened to be a girl I had taken a writing class with the previous semester. We got to talking about books, and I told her I had just bought a ticket for the upcoming Haruki Murakami reading occurring on campus later that week. She said that another girl in the house not only had a ticket, but that she'd gotten to meet the man himself via her Comparative Literature major specialty (Japanese). Later that night, I met this girl and sort of creepily told her what I'd heard about her (because I was drunk). Then I found out that, in addition to knowing about Japanese writers, she worked in the CED Library!
Me: "Hey, have you seen this tiny white book with blue lettering on the side called Almost Transparent Blue by the other Murakami...Ryu?"
Her (gasp): "I have that in my room! Do you want it back?"
Me (drunk, being friendly and NOT logical): "Oh, no, no, just read it, keep it and read it and return it for me when you're done."
4. At the beginning of this semester, I started receiving threatening messages from the Library. I couldn't renew the book, though, because GLADIS (the online command prompt used for book renewal, among other things) doesn't work on Vista. At least, it doesn't work on my Vista. Before I got the chance to renew it, the Library informed me that my borrowing privileges had been blocked. So I tried searching for that girl on Facebook, to no avail, because I couldn't figure out how to spell her name. I eventually emailed my friend, who gave me her email and the proper spelling. She returned it promptly. THANK GOD. Now I can borrow books again. I mean, I've been able to borrow books for a few months now, so sometimes I forget how important that is...borrowing books. It's really important, as I'm sure everyone knows. Being banned from borrowing is...I can't even explain it. Every time I stepped into a library I would look at the books and sigh and think, "So close...but so far."
5. What I learned from this book: never forget library books anywhere, not even in other libraries. Also, if Almost Transparent Blue is any indication of his style, Ryu Murakami is indeed weird, but in that awful pain-inducing Will Christopher Baer kind of way.(less)
Near the end of this book the deluded psycho loser Kazue Sato writes something like, "Motherfuckers! I wish they would all die." That is precisely my...moreNear the end of this book the deluded psycho loser Kazue Sato writes something like, "Motherfuckers! I wish they would all die." That is precisely my sentiment toward the characters in this book. Fortunately some of them did die, but unfortunately they all left written accounts, which means we readers had to suffer through their conniving, irrational, insecure, perverted, incestuous, jealous, obscene (not in a good way), convoluted (not in a good way), inconsistent (not in a good way) mishmash of memories.
Two stars for the readability of this book. Two stars for the two reasons I managed to finish it in spite of my absolute hatred (I am not exaggerating) of every single person in this story.
#1: The easy, succinct, and forward-moving prose, similar to that of Kirino's earlier and by far superior Out. Also I just wanted to get it out of my system as soon as possible. #2: The psychological mystery, similar in ambition to that of Out, but again, much less successful.
I tend not to like "layered" narratives and this was no exception. You have to be pretty damn skilled with a pretty damn good reason to pull off multiple points of view. Kirino is lacking in one of these departments (the latter, I believe, since Out was very good). All these people sound the same: stupid, crazy, and disgustingly self-centered. This book would have been much more powerful if it had focused on the relationship between Yuriko and her sister instead of going off on boring tangents such as the killer's faked sob story in which he blames his crimes on his insatiable lust for his sister (dumbass) and Kazue's obsessively detailed life in prostitution, complete with yen counts on every single page (dumbass) and also Professor Kijima's letters, in which he states the obvious, in which he tries to use really basic (as in high school freshman biology) science to explain away a retarded decision he made based on his insatiable lust for someone (dumbass) and on top of that I also hated the ending, in which Yuriko's sister develops an insatiable lust for someone but is kind of really too stupid to realize it as such (dumbass). Good on you, unnamed narrator, for noticing that beauty is power, but that is also quite frankly extremely obvious! If these characters were smart and horrible I probably would have been able to stand them, but no, they were all idiots to the extreme.
Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't get why Kirino chose not to name Yuriko's sister. She may have been trying for a Rebecca effect, but, um, no. It just didn't work. And what was up with all the racism in this book? Do Japanese women hate themselves that much? If the pro-"Westerners" and "halfs" attitude was supposed to be a social commentary, it was a superficial one at best.(less)
Still trying to sort out my thoughts about this book, but basically, Masako is awesome. It's been a while since I've really fallen for a character. Th...moreStill trying to sort out my thoughts about this book, but basically, Masako is awesome. It's been a while since I've really fallen for a character. The rest of the cast isn't so stellar-- Yoshie, Yayoi, and especially Kuniko seem to be exemplifying certain types of women, and it's obvious what the writer thinks of each. Kuniko doesn't have a single saving grace as a human being...or as a character, unless you count the fact that she's so utterly lame and selfish and useless that she makes Masako look even better. I kept wondering why she didn't buy a membership to the gym instead of Gucci/Chanel knockoffs. Anyway! I digress.
I don't normally read thrillers. I probably wouldn't have read this if it took place in America. Half the fun (a term I use loosely as this book made me squirm) was figuring out this Japanese boxed-lunch factory and the somewhat sinister surrounding city. I wasn't sure how anyone could go on for a few hundred pages after the big woman-killing-husband event took place, but the way Kirino handles the aftermath is superb. In fact, this book is all about the aftermath. Kirino dwells not on what happens after the crime but what happens after the police have stopped searching and all the tracks have been covered. That's when the character development starts to get really good-- well, that's when we find out just how broken and horrifying these people are. And...hell, I can't resist screwed-up characters. I absolutely love them. I love psychological warfare. I even sort of loved all the depressing social observations here, such as the ten million reasons why it sucks to be a woman (especially in Japan, I guess?) and the drudgery and dangers of factories, and the fact that looks really do matter.... I find all of that incredibly interesting too.
The ending is cheesy and anticlimactic. Or shall I say the second-to-last scene? Otherwise, the plot unravels at just the right speed.
Oh, and this book made me hungry. I don't know how that's possible, given the, uh.... Well, it did. I want some of that sloppy "Lunch of Champions" with eleven slices of beef.
(On the writing: I suspect this is a poor translation. I don't know much about language but I doubt that this book would have won Japan's top mystery award if the original wording were this clumsy. Pretty much every emotion here was told as well as shown which slowed down the narrative considerably. I had some trouble getting through the beginning because of that. I thought this book was going to be awful. But then I got used to holding the clues to everything, and then it became exciting. And creepy.)(less)
When I first got this book I thought I would love it. There is a bird on the cover. Bird is also in the title. The first chapter features a guy cookin...moreWhen I first got this book I thought I would love it. There is a bird on the cover. Bird is also in the title. The first chapter features a guy cooking spaghetti and whistling along to the radio who suddenly gets a call from a woman who insists they have phone sex. Weirdness ensues. The mystery builds up until Toru Okada's life itself becomes a huge well of spaghetti (that has been taken over by netherworld invaders), complete with holes in the sauce and meatballs of dubious morality.
OK, but really. Too many war passages. Lieutenant Mamiya bored me. Too many fruitless endeavors. Too many wild goose chases. I just couldn't stand it after a while, although I must admit the hotel chapters at the end were pretty cool. After reading V. I realize I may not have appreciated this book enough. I read it when I was young and illiterate. Then again, this book wasn't so bad that it turned me off Murakami's work forever (hence me trying to read more of his stuff now).(less)
I wasn't expecting to like this book at all, but wow. Murakami has an amazing imagination. I don't think I fully understand this book, which is why it...moreI wasn't expecting to like this book at all, but wow. Murakami has an amazing imagination. I don't think I fully understand this book, which is why it seems a tad incomplete to me, but this is a lot more readable, enjoyable, satisfying, etc. than The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Kafka sort of irritated me. I mean, he's fifteen, he's horny, I get it, but do we really need to read about every single erection and wet dream (or perhaps not "dream") he has? Well, that might be necessary to an extent, what with his Oedipal tendencies and all. There is an excessive amount of day-to-day detail in this book. I think Murakami spent nearly a quarter of the book describing his characters' food and clothing choices. I liked the third person half much better-- Mr. Nakata is cool and adorable, and Mr. Hoshino is funny. But all the characters are interesting in some way, even (and especially) Kafka.(less)