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  1. #1
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    December 2011 BotM: Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

    Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World is a 1985 novel by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, though the English translation by Alfred Birnbaum was released in 1991.



    According to Wikipedia, it is a 'strange and dreamlike novel, its chapters alternate between two bizarre narratives — the 'Hard-Boiled Wonderland' and 'The End of the World' parts.'

    Discuss!

    Mark
    Last edited by Hobbit; November 30th, 2011 at 04:19 PM.
    Mark

  2. #2
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    I'm about a quarter of the way through, and reading this directly after Kafka on the Shore. It's a lot more surreal and weirder than Kafka, which tended towards the magic realism end of the spectrum.
    Some more thoughts to come as I progress...

  3. #3
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    This was the first Murakami novel I read. I pretty much loved it. The unicorn skull universe serving as the symbolic subsuming of the protagonist's brain, the mix of cyberpunk with Japanese identity themes, and the good-natured satire all worked for me. It does have a slight feel back to 1960's, 1970's science fiction where they were obsessed with the mind and the unconscious, but the zaniness is pretty much all Murakami. I like the dialogue between the characters, especially the tricky balance of comedy with emotional intensity.

    Oddly enough, watching the scifi movie Source Code reminded me a bit of this novel. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind obviously has some parallels too, but there's more crime fun in Murakami's novel. And the INKlings were fun.

  4. #4
    I really enjoyed this first encounter with Murakami. A couple of elements which made it really stand out for me:

    Unusual and well written narrative
    The parallel narratives, switching between conscious (in past tense) and subconscious (in present tense (!) works well and offers much deeper insights (literally) in the protagonist's thought processes and belief system. The tone is witty, verging on banter in the 'conscious' parts and more stylized, poetic and simple in the unconscious bits. The dialogue in these chapters reminded me a bit of Wolfe, who can create the samen evocative effects with seemingly simple prose.

    Linked to past, present and future
    The whole novel is suffused with symbolism, archetypes (eg.: in neither worlds anyone has a name. 'the chubby girl', 'the librarian' etc. in one and 'the Colonel', 'the Gatekeeper' and (again) the Librarian in the other) mythical and literary references, as well as references to 60s and 70s jazz and movies, and to an economy where information is more dear than gold.

    Real and magical, funny and emotional
    I was impressed by the ease with which Murakami balances surreal and magical elements (INKlings, unicorns...) with the everyday doings and musings of a bachelor in Tokyo; as well as the (even more delicate) balance between wit and cynicism (which he does very well) and emotions as love and despair.

    I was first taken in by the title (Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World - this must be good ) and I wasn't disappointed. Great story, well paced, funny, poetic and thought provoking. Very much looking forward now to the other books i ordered (Wind up bird chronicles, Norwegian wood, Kafka on the shore).

    Cheers,

    Sfinx.

  5. #5
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Apparently, he was doing some homage to Raymond Chandler in it, but for me, it was a bit more early Neal Stephenson. What's amazing is how he blends everything together -- satiric, dramatic, poignant, suspense, lyricism, etc.

  6. #6
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    I just had a pretty epic session and read most of the book in one go. I'm still mulling over it, but have to say that Sfinx's commentary is in line with my initial thoughts.
    The End of the World seemed pretty obvious to me to be a subconscious creation before it was explicitly called out as thus - the fun was then looking for the analogues and metaphor between it and the real world. The blurring towards the end of the book enhanced this.
    I have to say I was also surprised by the ending - I wasn't exactly expecting something with that quiet yet peaceful sadness.
    More thoughts to come after I've had some time to dwell on it.

  7. #7
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    I'm on board with pretty much everything above, but I'll add a few thoughts of my own:

    Does anyone know anything about the translation or the original Japanese text? I thought it was interesting that he's cruising through parts of Tokyo thinking about Marlboro cigarettes, Lauren Bacall movies, and other seemingly very western icons. Were the movie and product references westernized for us so that things wouldn't feel so foreign or was Murakami just including that much stuff from around the world.

    I clued into the "End of the World" being an inner psyche thing some time before at was actually revealed, but I didn't quite have the whys of it (having to do with the way he was programmed to shuffle). So I was hunting references and such for quite a while. I didn't think that what we were seeing was actually running in parallel to the real-world timeline though until the very end there. The Grandfather told Our Hero that in those final seconds he could live a whole life in the other world, so I assumed that all of the EoW sections took place right there at the end, but the glowing skull seems to put the lie to that.

    I did really expect that he'd find a way to save himself in the EoW and was quite surprised he didn't take it, as he and the librarian seemed to be getting on well and there was some hope that after reconciling his inner story he'd be able to live a more fulfilling life on the outside (or so my thinking went). I definitely didn't expect him to succeed in finding a way through and then simply not take it.

    While I enjoyed all of it, I particularly liked the faux-biology of unicorns. For some reason, I've actually been thinking of the evolutionary benefits and pitfalls of different numbers of horns ever since. While odd, it's actually been the biggest thing I've taken from the book.

    I also was happy to be introduced to another brain teaser. I'd never heard the puzzle of how to inscribe an entire encyclopedia on a toothpick...though if you have a machine that can burn a line at that fine a resolution, you could probably just write out the whole series of books anyway and have it fit...

  8. #8
    boss of several cats... Severn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Erfael View Post
    I did really expect that he'd find a way to save himself in the EoW and was quite surprised he didn't take it, as he and the librarian seemed to be getting on well and there was some hope that after reconciling his inner story he'd be able to live a more fulfilling life on the outside (or so my thinking went). I definitely didn't expect him to succeed in finding a way through and then simply not take it.
    That's exactly how I felt about it. And I was left thinking about what would happen to his shadow. Does his shadow continue living without him 'outside' in the real world? Is the shadow able to escape at all? Presumably the shadow was the 'mind' part of himself - the thinking, rational creature able to plot the escape, so if it could escape and survive, then what has he left behind, As far as I understood it he stayed behind in part because he couldn't find all of the Librarian's mind in time. But, if, when a shadow dies a character loses their mind, wouldn't that make it moot - as he'd be just as mindless as her with his shadow either dead or in another world? Usually I'm annoyed with questions left at the end of a novel/series, but these were good ones to ponder.

    I, too, didn't get a feel for Japan besides the obvious blunt references to yen currency and so on. And I also loved the shift in voice between the chapters.

    The preoccupation with weight was annoying for me. Such as the thin one (the Librarian in the real world I think) who ate and ate and ate and stayed thin as a post. Then the chubby girl he resisted yet fantasised about, with a talent for sandwich making. Try as hard as I could I couldn't reconcile this with the character and I kept thinking how hung up on weight the author was; It was the only jarring part of the novel for me: 'Oh, great, more rambling about how fat/thin this one is.' Maybe that's because I'm a woman preoccupied with my own weight!

    Over all, I loved this, far more than I had expected to.

  9. #9
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    I agree with your interpretation of the shadow Severn, and had similar questions regarding the ending.
    With regards to your points on the physical attributes of the women, I really do wonder if there is a metaphor I'm not picking up on here. Murakami writes works that feel to me like they're full of metaphor and symbolism, but as to what they reflect/represent, well, that's for someone more intelligent and well read than myself to say.
    One of the things that leads me to say this is the skulls. The initial discussion of skulls and bones from the grandfather, followed by the "history" of the skull, combined with the reading of the skulls in The End of the World and the glowing skull in reality all made me think there was a greater theme here. Yes, the skulls and the beasts are directly called out as representations of memories - but if they are in the protagonist's sub conscious, why are they the memories of others (i.e. the librarian), and why does the fake skull glow outside End of the World?

    Thinking on the book, one of the real criticisms I had was around the descriptions of shuffling and the creation of End of the World. They seemed to be an attempt at some sort of mimicry of a computer related design, but to me they just felt overly convoluted, unclear and clumsy.

    I was also expecting a lot more from the INKlings (why is it capitalised like that?) - there was a lot of foreboding and not much delivery there.

    Looking back, I've got to say I enjoyed Kafka on the Shore a lot more than this one.

  10. #10
    Creator of Worlds sullivan_riyria's Avatar
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    I've got too much going on to make time for anything this month but hope to particpate more in the new year. As an asside I'm VERY interested in the new Haruki Murakami book: 1Q84

  11. #11
    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Erfael View Post
    Does anyone know anything about the translation or the original Japanese text? I thought it was interesting that he's cruising through parts of Tokyo thinking about Marlboro cigarettes, Lauren Bacall movies, and other seemingly very western icons. Were the movie and product references westernized for us so that things wouldn't feel so foreign or was Murakami just including that much stuff from around the world.
    Interesting - I have only read Wild Sheep Chase and although I usually love Japanese fiction (in fact, pretty much anything Japanese) I wasn't particularly moved by it and found it a bit too.. westernized. It was good enough that I'd read more by him but I didn't get the hype from that particular book.

  12. #12
    It never entered my mind algernoninc's Avatar
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    I have started this, but I don't know if I will be able to finish by the end of the year. It feels like the kind of book that needs a little quiet and isolation in order to spend some leisure time with the text, and not the 15 minute slices of freedom I seem to be able to snatch from end-of-year activities.

  13. #13
    It never entered my mind algernoninc's Avatar
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    Finished this in time, after all, here's a few impressions, copy/pasted from goodreads:

    I found this a little slow in the beginning, but I'm glad I stuck with it, as it turned to have a very impressive finale. This is my first try of Haruki Murakami, and my first impression was of a self-indulgent narrator, delighting in weirding out his readers and in gazing at his own navel. I also thought I need to be more familiarized with Japanese symbols and conventions, as much of the imagery and the metaphors seemed obscure to me. It made me think about how much is Lost in Translation from the imagination of the writer, into the Japanese language, then into English, then into Romanian and finally into my own imagination.

    On the surface of things, there are two stories here, narrated in first person : one of an imaginary Tokio metropolis where two corporations fight each other over the coding and decoding of information, and one "Calcutec" - a lone wolf human Enigma machine - gets involved with a mad scientist and his plump niece. The second story is of an imaginary city peopled with strange animals and mysterious people, with rigid rules of behaviour and dark secrets waiting to be unraveled.

    The keys to the two stories are given rather late, about 2/3rds into the book in a chapter about an Elephant Factory, and the patient reader is rewarded with well presented insights into human intellect, the balance between the conscious and the subconscious mind, the balance between the interior life and the need for interraction with other people.
    Murakami proves he has an exuberant imagination, an uncanny ability to play with the readers expectations, and most importantly - a good heart. The final epiphany, in the sunshine by the seaside, will stay with me for a long time, in a way similar to one of my favorite movies by Kurosawa : Ikiru.

    I consider this book well worth a re-read, now that I have a clear picture of the whole, maybe I will even prepare a soundtrack for it based on the numerous classical, Jazz and rock recordings mentioned in the text. I will also put the other books by Murakami on my wishlist for 2012.

    Here are some quotes I considered relevant in the text:

    For anyone not accustomed with this sort of thing, stepping on thirty-centimeter wide sections of slick rock crawling with leeches in the dark is an experience likely to be memorable. The squashed leeches made a thick layer of sticky, gelatinous mush.

    ---

    No two human beings are alike; its a question of identity. And what is identity? The cognitive system arisin' from the aggregate memories of that individual's past experiences. The layman's word for this is the mind. Not two human beings have the same mind. At the same time, human beings have almost no grasp of their own cognitive systems.

    ---

    All of us dig at our own holes. We have nothing to achieve by our activities, nowhere to get to. Is there not something marvelous about this? We hurt no one and no one gets hurt. No victory, no defeat.

    edit: now that I've seen other comments here, I should have mentioned that the book was also fun, Murakami definitely has a sense of humor, albeit oriented towards the weird stuff, like in some Japanese reality shows.

    One thing that bothered me in the novel, and that I would like some input from other readers: in the real part of the story, the hard-boiled one, there's the whole subterranean adventure that is much too weird and I felt it should have belonged in the End of the World setting. Leeches, INKlings, underground mountains, mind control, sound muting: It made me wonder for a while whether this part of the story too is taking place inside the Calcutec's brain, and he is getting wrong inputs because of the meddling with his synapses.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by algernoninc View Post
    One thing that bothered me in the novel, and that I would like some input from other readers: in the real part of the story, the hard-boiled one, there's the whole subterranean adventure that is much too weird and I felt it should have belonged in the End of the World setting. Leeches, INKlings, underground mountains, mind control, sound muting: It made me wonder for a while whether this part of the story too is taking place inside the Calcutec's brain, and he is getting wrong inputs because of the meddling with his synapses.
    I'd agree with you. The hard-boiled part seems to be experienced very differently by our protagonist than by other 'regular' people. The elevator, the building, the underground lab, the INKlings and their underground empire - a weird mix of vaguely surreal Bond and B-horror movie. And the very name of the INKlings ( (suggestions / indications / vague awareness) is ofc very suggestive - perhaps his own semi-conscious knowledge that things are not ok creeping up on him? And: it's not called hard-boiled wonderland for nothing...so yea, his perception of the "real" world seems quite heavily influenced by the faulty connections in his brains.

    tbh however, i'd need to read the book again to properly get my head around its various meanings, symbols and significance.

    Cheers, happy new year,

    Sfinx

  15. #15
    Finished this recently and really enjoyed it. I liked the way the ending was not overdone. I was expecting some huge chase. I found it had a nice blend of a unique and interesting story, likable characters and dialog and a story that moved along at a nice pace. I'm hoping I like his other books too.

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