At times I’ve thought that Murakami is one of my favourite contemporary writers, other times I feel as though he has been so hyped up that his words are given more meaning than they contain. I guess the reason I go back and forth on my opinion on him as a writer is that I have loved some of his books, and have been quite underwhelmed by others. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World has been the third in a row that fit into that underwhelming category (After Dark and his memoir What I talk about when I talk about Running being the other two). I’ll get on to the reasons this didn’t do it for me.
First of all, the book is divided into two parallel story lines – Hard-Boiled Wonderland is one story, The End of the World is the other – and they are told in alternate chapters so one chapter will be Hard-Boiled, the next The End of the World and so forth. However, the second story line “The End” only starts to make sense until at least a third if not halfway through the novel. It’s not so much that it has no interesting qualities on its own, but that is doesn’t truly have a purpose until the connection between the story lines are shown to the reader. Of course, if you figure this connection out before it’s made obvious it might not take until the halfway point for it to start making sense. But long story short – I personally didn’t much care for the “The End” until I understood what it meant, what the point of it was and how it worked into the novel as a whole.
Hard-Boiled Wonderland is much more straightforward, it’s set in the “real world” although it’s got elements of sci-fi and dystopian society. The protagonist works for a company that deals with information, shuffling and all the details I wasn’t all that interested in but the premise is that he’s going to help this old man do some shuffling of information – but because of this old man he ends up getting stuck in between a larger “war” of intelligence and knowledge, and everyone’s out to get him. For me, the characterisation of him was one of the reasons I felt disappointed with the writing of this part. He likes jazz, he had a cat, he likes old movies and is pretentious enough to be a Murakami protagonist. I mean – the tropes or the objects/elements that reoccur in most of Murakami’s novels is for me, one of the charms of his writing. It’s familiar, it’s his style, and it feels like you’re in the joke as a reader because unless you’ve read more than one book this won’t be very obvious. However, it’s fine to include objects and traits again and again but you have to at least do something new with the feelings, the ways of describing, the phrases you use, to make it fresh. This protagonist (I can’t remember his name) is so lacking in spirit or life, he feels more like an outline of a person. At least the Old man is colourful, even though he’s not that likeable. I’ve mainly talked about the character but the thing is, Hard-Boiled Wonderland is told in first-person and most of the writing in this part – not the plot because that had some originality, the actual writing felt to me lazy and I know he can do better. But I will say the actual story was very different from any other Murakami I’ve read, and if you like sci-fi/dystopia you might like it more than I did. It’s not my cup of tea personally, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I think others have/will.
The second story line “The End of the World” was to me, more interesting. The thing is – I liked the ideas in this part from the start – the shadows, the beasts, the woodfolk, the dreamreader, the feel of the place and the mystery surrounding it – so filled with potential. I didn’t find this part enjoyable or compelling until, as I said earlier, I understood it’s implication and connection to Hard-Boiled. After that, I preferred it to the other story line. Unfortunately, in the end, I felt there was too much left unexplained. I felt parts of this place, the town and the story behind it, was underdeveloped. The actual ending of the book also made a big part of the book feel entirely pointless to me, making me so frustrated I wanted to throw the book at the wall.
It seems to be one of his most popular books, along with The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (which is one of my top favourites of his), so don’t just take my word for it. I still plan to read through his backlist, possibly next to try some of his short stories.
Until next time, happy reading!