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

Aug 6, 2018

Disclaimer: Spoilers abound!

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

Hyperkinetic and relentlessly inventive, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is Haruki Murakami’s deep dive into the very nature of consciousness.

Across two parallel narratives, Murakami draws readers into a mind-bending universe in which Lauren Bacall, Bob Dylan, a split-brained data processor, a deranged scientist, his shockingly undemure granddaughter, and various thugs, librarians, and subterranean monsters collide to a dazzling effect. What emerges is a novel that is at once hilariously funny and a deeply serious meditation on the nature and uses of the mind.

This novel alternates between two worlds. There is the “Hard-Boiled Wonderland” and “The End of the World.” The former takes place in reality, where the main character is racing against time to prevent “The End of the World.” Interestingly enough, the end of the world takes place in a single mystical village where people’s memories of their past life do not exist. It is a utopia where everyone is assigned a task to do until the end of time.

After reading this novel, I came to the conclusion that I read too much Murakami. There is something similar across many of his protagonists that I just can’t pinpoint. It’s nothing too general like the fact that they are all men with strange thoughts about sex and women (although a lot of them do have that in common). Maybe I’m just projecting but it seems like a large number of his protagonists are rather… Simple. Maybe even boring. They never think too strongly or feel too strongly. It seems like things are just simply happening to them and they are just bringing us along for the ride.

Which is why I breezed through the “Hard-Boiled Wonderland” chapters and absorbed “The End of the World” chapters as much as I could. The protagonist in “Hard-Boiled Wonderland” is pretty much the stereotypical Murakami leading man. In “the End of the World,” the protagonist is largely the same but also different.

There seems to be a real danger that the protagonist is trying his best to prevent. He does not want to lose his mind as he remembers it. Despite being really dull and drab in the real world, the importance of having emotions and memories is a great driving force for the protagonist. After falling in love with the emotionless librarian in the village, he is motivated to cling to his mind.

I was also pulled in by the fantasy aspects of “The End of the World.” The little village of people in an immortal land is just really interesting. I really wanted to uncover the mysteries of this world. The revelation in the novel was a bit of a disappointment but I enjoyed travelling and discovering the characters in this world.

However, being pulled back into reality is disappointing. While there was a real sense of urgency that I appreciated (really, I just wanted it to be over), I didn’t feel the weight of the risk as much as the risk of never leaving “the End of the World.”

I can’t really seem to make my mind up about this novel. I think this might be one of the better Murakami books but it still isn’t great. I probably wouldn’t reread this book, like I would say, Norweigan Wood.