Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

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Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World

Five words from the blurb: unicorn, librarians, descent, tradegy, detachment

Hard-Boiled Wonderland is my fifth Murakami (I’ve read Wild Sheep Chase, Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore) but although I loved the bizarre scenes, I think I understood this book less than any of the others I’ve read.

The book contained a dual narrative: one part set in an alternative version of modern Japan, the other in a mysterious walled city. These short, alternating chapters added pace and ensured the reader was never bored.

The plot revolved around unicorns; trying to avoid strange vicious creatures called INKlings; and bizarre experiments on the mind. I loved the first two aspects, but the third confused me. I also failed to understand the book’s concept. I think I’d benefit from reading a study guide, as far too much went over my head.

The writing style was simpler and less vibrant than the other Murakamis I’ve read and I initially struggled to connect with it. It took about 70 pages before I was gripped to the plot and there was one point, about 40 pages in, where I even considered abandoning it. Luckily I persevered and was rewarded with more of Murakami’s unique brand of weirdness.

“Your shadow is on the verge of death. A person has the right to see his own shadow under these circumstances. There are rules about this. The Town observes the passing of a shadow as a solemn event, and the Gatekeeper does not interfere.”

The joy of this book is the way it transports you out of your comfort zone. It is unpredictable, entertaining and completely bonkers, but I wish I there had been more adventure and less complex mind theory.

Recommended to those who are already Murakami fans, as I don’t think this is a good place to start.

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Have you read this book?

Did you understand it?

Is it your favourite Murakami? 

To find more Japanese literature reviews head over to Tony’s January in Japan blog.


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12 Comments

  1. Jenners says:

    I’m still exploring Murakami and haven’t gotten to this one yet. I’m going to do Ti’s Wind Up Bird Chronicle readalong in April so that will be my next one.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I look forward to seeing what you make of Wind Up Bird – that one has its fair share of weirdness too :-)

  2. So far I’ve only read Murakami’s more “normal” work — Norwegian Wood and After Dark. Looking forward to reading more, though this one might not be next up. Sounds weirdly fascinating, though.

    1. Jackie says:

      Andi, I prefer his more bizarre stuff, but I’ll be interested to see what you make of it. Weirdly fascinating is a great way to put it!

  3. I really enjoyed this book although I can’t claim to totally understand it. I loved the underground situation with this man being led through water (I think) into some lab.

    I remember being a bit irritated not getting it all, but it love some of the ideas in the book. I don’t remember the unicorns – they didn’t leave an impression.

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, Yes – those underground scenes were particularly thrilling. I’d love to know what an INKling looks like – the name sounds so cute :-)

      The unicorn bit was one of my favourites – it sounded so realistic I almost believed it was true. It is interesting to know everyone remembers different bits.

  4. Tony says:

    This is a very complex one, and Jay Rubin (in his biography) says that it is Murakami’s best-written, most tightly-plotted novel. It does take a while to really get into it, but that’s intentional – the scerets and revelations are spaced out nicely :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Tony, It is interesting to learn that Rubin thinks this was the best written. I didn’t think that at all. Wind-Up Bird seemed far better to me. Wonderland had a more complex concept/plot, but the writing itself lacked the zing of his other books. I wonder if something is lost in the translation?

  5. JoV says:

    I begin my Murakami journey here Jackie and I love it! I agree it transported me out to a world that I didn’t know exists. I will always love this and if there is a day I will re-read again, I will.

    Glad you like it enough. ;)

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, I can’t imagine starting with this one, but I’m pleased it didn’t put you off! I’d be interested to hear if this one makes more sense on a second reading. I imagine I’d be just as confused!

  6. stujallen says:

    I agree this isn’t the start of hime Although I would say it is his first two books that are hard to get but in a way have lots that appear in later books by him ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, I’m noticing a lot of repeated symbolism in his books. I was surprised to see no cats in this one – only librarians and a well!

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