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

This book is a real mind bender. I took so many notes and at the end of my note book is this acronym: WTF!!!! So, yeah, that kind of sums it up. I can’t wait to tell you about it!

How did I Hear About Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World?

This novel was a book club pick. If you are open to various genres and themes, check out the Brooke Club conversation at The Wilder Side.

I had never read Murakami before. He is a Japanese writer who lives in Tokyo, but his name was not unknown to me. I had heard some buzz about him because he has several awards for his novels, including the Jerusalem Prize in 2007, and was awarded the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fiction in 2011 for IQ84. Learn more about him at his author page:

Did the Opening Pages Grab My Attention?

Yes! Intriguing and disorienting, we are immediately taken on a journey into the secret lair of a mad scientist, led by a young woman dressed head to toe in bright pink and who speaks, but makes no sound. We descend into a world where things are not as they seem, all sound can arbitrarily be muted or lowered; a world of unicorns, dream readers, and nefarious indescribable creatures that inhabit the subterranean tunnels of Tokyo. Did I mention comical goon squads and the seduction of ravenous librarians?

What Kept Me Reading?

Trust me, you will want to keep reading in the hope that, at some point, everything will be explained.

Set in Toyko, the main character works for a large data corporation as a Calcutec (the details of which are vague, but basically he has been transformed through human experimentation into some kind of human computer for scrambling and securing data). He is hired to do a job by a cutting edge scientist who has literally gone underground.

Murakami does not give anyone names, only descriptions: i.e. the girl in pink, Grandfather, the librarian, etc. It was towards the end of the book when I realized I did not even know the MC’s name! It is written in first person. I went back through to see if the main character’s name was ever mentioned and could not find an instance when his name is given.

Things That Worked Well and Things That Didn’t

The narrative is interwoven between two parallel worlds, one we sense is the “real” world (quotations because there it is unlike our world) and one we sense is an inner or parallel world that the main character is stuck in at some future point in time. In the “real” world, the MC knows he is headed toward this other world and he at first attempts to halt the inevitable. In the parallel world (i.e. The End of the World) the MC is trying to get out of the inner world and back to a life or existence he no longer has memory of. While the “real” world sometimes seems over the top and the MC’s actions often feel contrived, even incredulous, I thought the development of the parallel world––The End of the World––was beautifully done. I enjoyed that narrative much more.

How Predictable Was the Outcome?

There is nothing in this book that could be called predictable. It is all just so … out there.

Would I Recommend This Book to a Friend?

Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is not for every reader. I’d recommend this to anyone I know who likes science fiction, speculative fiction, surrealism, and open endings; someone who reads Lovecraft or Phillip K Dick or magical realism authors. If you like books about parallel world or books that really, really dive deep into the human psyche, you may like this book.

Book Club Book?

Since this was a book club book, I’m going to say yes. There is so much here to discuss! Discuss for days! Even if all you have to comment on is the author’s obsession with sex in the narrative, the objectification of the women, and the libidinous tendencies of the main character.

Final Thoughts …

The end of this book left me with a definite what just happened feeling. Some people like that. Some people don’t. For me, it depends on what mind-state I’m in at the time. In this instance, I can say that I really enjoyed this book by Murakami and I’ve added IQ84 to my To Be Read list.


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