Forrest's Reviews > Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
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's review
Dec 10, 2016

really liked it
Read from October 30 to December 10, 2016

I cannot provide a more succinct and excellent summary of the plot of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World than Michael has provided. Nor would I wish to try to describe the plot. It is classic Murakami, which means that several disparate elements are fused together in a surreal totality that somehow works. This may have more to do with the mind's attempt to fuse together disjointed pieces, filling in any logical gaps with its own concoctions, than the intention of the writer. Yes, Murakami supplies many pieces of the puzzle, but the reader's brain must itself invoke any missing pieces from past experience or the subconscious's sheer creation of additional fiction on the fly. Of course, this is the case with any piece of fiction, but the chasms that we willingly cross with Murakami are a testament to his power as a writer - the power to draw one into the story, to fold the reading experience in with the story itself.

That is not to say that the book is not without its flaws. I must admit to having felt "thrown out" of the story for a good portion of the story: an infodump in which one of the characters explains complicated concepts about neurology and consciousness in a highly-distracting, "folksy" voice. For a chapter, I thought I might set the book down, as I found this voice so annoying at what seemed like such a critical juncture. In the end, I'm not certain that the section in question was really even necessary. It could have at least been reduced by half and simplified, in order to keep the flow that I normally enjoy from Murakami.

Still, after that bump in the auctorial road, the story comes together again, as if it has jumped a hurdle and is now racing, quite confidently, to the finish. At a certain point - which I won't reveal - the two stories that comprise the book begin to meld into one, and yet the ending came as an utter surprise to me . . . because it was the ending I was expecting all along and the ending I both most feared and the ending I had secretly hoped for. It "rocked my world" because it did not "rock my world".

Ultimately, this is the sort of bittersweet story I've learned to hope for from Murakami, a sort of Hegelian dialectic in which hope and despair resolve into a sort of triumphant acceptance of inevitability. This has been a timely read for me, and rather poignant, since my father was recently diagnosed with cancer which has not, thankfully, metastasized. He had surgery to have his kidney removed just two weeks before I am writing this review. He is doing well, but, in talking with him on the phone, I can tell that he is finally feeling his age and, while I hope and pray that he will live for many more years (his prognosis is actually quite good), he is being faced with his own mortality. Dad is a fighter. And he won't go without holding on as long as he can. But I think he'll do it with dignity. Do I wish he could live forever? Yes. Do I know that he must eventually die? Yes. And still, there is a quiet beauty to his growing old, not a fear of fate, but not a desperate struggle, either. I can hear a twinge of sadness in his voice when I talk to him, but also an increase of appreciation for Life.

All intellectual concerns aside, I can't think of a more appropriate book to have read at this time.
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Reading Progress

03/02/2015 marked as: to-read
10/30/2016 marked as: currently-reading
10/30/2016 page 12
3.0% "This is a Murakami novel, so I'm guessing that the strange succession of room numbers has a mathematical formula behind it, they are of kabbalistic significance, or both.

Can anyone confirm either of these?"
10/31/2016 page 18
4.0% "Is it weird that I pictured a Miyazaki-movie-like-scene in my minds eye while reading that second chapter? I mean, just because they are both Japanese and their last names begin with "M" doesn't mean they think the same, but that's what popped into my head. Maybe my brain just finds it easier to use the existing connections, rather than forge something brand new?

Huh. Weird."
11/07/2016 page 32
8.0% "Hey, this has an illustration in it!"
11/27/2016 page 50
12.0% "I love Joyce, but this is a nice change of pace after slogging though Ulysses."
11/29/2016 page 75
18.0% "Hmm. A convergence of stories is starting to form. Which usually means it will either be brilliant or a disaster, speaking in literary terms."
12/01/2016 page 126
31.0% ""Asleep like a tuna" - what the heck does that mean? Is that some weird Japanese euphemism?"
12/02/2016 page 158
39.0% "Well, this is mysterious. I wonder if Murakami had this plotted out first, then wrote the story, or if he stumbled through it as he went along. I'm guessing he went through several revisions, given how he unfolds the complicated plot all of a sudden. Intriguing how he reveals and obfuscates at the same time. And I like the naivete of the narrator and how it creates an echo chamber for the noir-ish tone."
12/03/2016 page 200
50.0% "I'm looking for the point where one reality slips through the walls of the other. The problem is, I think there might be many points of slippage, rather than one breach. I like this a lot better, makes it much more fun to read and speculate."
12/05/2016 page 250
62.0% "I'm liking this book a lot, but does everything have to turn into an underground journey/trip through hell? I mean, even I did it in my novel, so, guilty. Dante looms large."
12/06/2016 page 260
65.0% "*grumblegrumblegrumble* The "hick" voice of the professor gets in the way of his technical explanations. Murakami's trying too hard to sound folksy and academic at the same time through the same character's voice. It isn't working. Not the End of the World, I suppose, but really making me stumble and grumble."
12/08/2016 page 300
75.0% "Now that we've gotten rid of Grandpa (good riddance!) the narrative flow is back. That center section almost did me in. If we continue as we are now, though, I'm satisfied with the book overall. We'll see what happens."
12/09/2016 page 330
82.0% "The narrator is pretty nonchalant for a guy who


is going to die in less than a day. If we're supposed to take this as a sign of his lack of drive and meaning, great. If not, then why characterize him this way?"
12/09/2016 page 360
90.0% "With the two-story structure it seems that one story is heading somewhere and the other isn't. I suspect that this is intentional."
12/10/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Franky Hey, loved the review. Great insight!

Forrest Franky wrote: "Hey, loved the review. Great insight!"

Thank you!

Jenny (Reading Envy) Thinking good thoughts for your father. Mine is also struggling through cancer right now and it can be hard to see them come to terms with mortality, whether it will be the cancer or not. I love when a book comes along that boosts us up when we aren't expecting it.

Forrest Thank you, Jenny. Good luck to your father, as well. It's sometimes pretty amazing, the power that books can have.

Michael So electric to experience a talented writer drinking from the cup of Murikami. You do so well in formulating an aspect of his special sauce I wasn't aware of, as you say his forcing the reader to do the work of integrating disparate elements and in the process making him a partner. I appreciate your honoring my attempt to make meaning out of the plot elements. I agree that the payoff of reading the tale depends more on what you the reader bring to the effort than some hidden message or solutions to his puzzles.

It's hard to believe something as fresh as this is 30 years old. To me it was worth dealing with the problems you speak of to get a window on the origins of his more recent magnificence. And somehow any random few paragraphs can tell you it is him behind the wheel. Any attempt to imitate him I bet would always come across as hollow or a parody.

Forrest Thank you for your kind words, Michael. Yes, it's funny that you mention the age of the book. I caught myself going back to check the publication date at least three times - usually when Murakami mentioned a piece of music.

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