Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Thoughts


Gosh, this is a hard book to summarize. Part science-fiction, part fantasy, full bizarre, this book takes you on a rollicking roller-coaster ride.

Half the chapters are set in Tokyo, where an unnamed narrator negotiates underground worlds populated by INKlings, dodges opponents of both sides of a raging high-tech infowar, and engages in an affair with a beautiful librarian with a gargantuan appetite.

In alternating chapters a narrator who lives in a strange land called The End of the World tries to reunite with his mind and his shadow and escape from this strange land back to where he came from.

Both worlds share one common theme – Unicorn skulls that moan and groan.

My Review

So does the synopsis sound interesting to you? Honestly, if I read this, I would just close the book and put it back on the library shelf. Too bizarre for me.

The actual synopsis on the back of the book mentioned something vague about Tokyo underworld, and I went into the book with an idea that this was a book that was about the Japanese mafia. No prizes for guessing how surprised I got as I read further and further into the book. It all just got curioser and curioser if I may paraphrase Alice in Wonderland.

The surprise is quite pleasant though.

The book is well-written and fast-moving and there is a very suspenseful aspect to the book that kept me reading late into the night.

The chapter titles and the map of The End of the World bring a strong fantastical aspect to the book. Chapter titles? Why am I blathering about chapter titles? To explain, I include the titles of the first two chapters here:

  1. Elevator, Silence, Overweight
  2. Golden Beasts

I don’t know about you, but I normally don’t even notice chapter titles much. But these made me stop right in my tracks, and try to think through the events that happen within.

And of course, the unicorns, they are so bizarre, so out-there, and provide another fantastical aspect to the book.

Now, apart from bizarre and fantastic, you do want to know what the book’s all about, don’t you?

Well, the tragedy is, if I told you, it would spoil the entire fun of reading the book. So, after leaving all these intriguing (I hope!) hints, I want to tell you that reading this book is really worth the time. It is the literary equivalent of The Matrix movie, and if you liked The Matrix, well, you will like this book as well. I guarantee it!

If you don’t like books where you don’t know what is happening, or you like books that spell things out explicitly, this book isn’t for you.

Ending this review with one last thought

It sounds odd to say this but this book is especially memorable for the protagonist’s tastes in music and literature. The book is peppered with numerous references and it seemed to me that perhaps Murakami was adding in his personal preferences. It immediately made me want to create a playlist (singers like Bob Dylan and John Coltrane and tons of classical music references) and read some Russian literature (Turgenev! Dostoyevsky!). This is pretty high-brow stuff!

Here is a small snippet to illustrate what I am saying:

“Ever read The Brothers Karamazov?” I asked.

“Once, a long time ago.”

“Well, towards the end, Alyosha is speaking to a young student named Kolya Krasotkin. And he says, Kolya, you’re going to have a miserable future. But overall, you”ll have a happy life.”

“When I first read that, I didn’t know what Alyosha meant,” I said, “How was it possible for a life of misery to be happy overall? But then I understood, that misery could be limited to the future.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Neither do I,” I said. “Not yet.”

What I love about this snippet is that at the time I read The Brothers Karamazov, I remember reading this and going What??? Now, after reading this book, I think I begin to understand what he meant. I can be really slow sometimes 😀

This is my first book I log as part of the Japanese Literature Challenge hosted by Dolce Belezza.

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  • I started reading Norwegian Wood last summer, decided it was too bizarre for me and kept it aside for later. After reading this review, I think I might get back to it now. The way you’ve described Murakami’s writing style, the quotes and the comments on the post make me wonder if, perhaps, sad and bizarre could be beautiful too.

    • @Priya: Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog. I think the first Murakami book is always unsettling?

      I read his Sputnik Sweetheart some time back, and I just couldn’t go with it. It was just weird. This time around, I suppose I was better prepared 🙂

      And also, this book is not sad at all, IMO. It’s just dreamy and weird, if that helps 🙂

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  • Haruki Murakami’s books are often so confusing to me, and yet I love them. I don’t feel I have to perfectly understand everything he says, in fact I was so comforted when I read an interview in which he said he wants his readers to be wide open to possibility. I think that is what we have to be when we read of books like this with unicorns everywhere. I have yet to read this particular novel.

  • I think the title alone would probably make me pick up this book lol

  • This was that same too-smart-to-understand book you mentioned earlier right? Wow..books can really surprise us.. 🙂

    • @sweety: Yep, that’s the one. I found it hard going in the beginning and maybe a little bit towards the end. But overall, it’s a lovely book. I really ended up loving it 🙂

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