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Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World (2001)

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (2001)
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Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of...
Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World (2001)

About book: So here’s the thing about Haruki Murakami that turns my brain into fairy floss: how is it that this 60ish Japanese guy writes in such a way that I feel he is exploring not only his own psychic underworld, but also mine? (I should mention here that I am not likewise a 60ish Japanese guy.) Given his rampant popularity across cultures, I am assuming I am not the only one who has this experience. His fans seem to return to him like … Well, like whatever the 2013 version of a crack whore returning to the den is … No, more like an opium den, isn’t it? Okay, how about an opium den that sometimes alternates as a meth lab? Yes, that feels about right.The drugs, of course, are only a metaphor. You don’t need to use drugs to read Murakami, because the reading creates a similar effect all on its own. I sound as if I am joking, but that is only partly true. In fact, after finishing his books (and I’ve read the majority of them now), I often feel a sense of distorted perception, and of being only half-bound to the earth. It does pass over time – minutes or hours, depending on what I am doing.What is this Murakami effect and how many of us are susceptible to it? I have this feeling when reading his books that I am watching someone clear out the closet of our Collective Unconscious: all hunkered down there in mounds of trash and treasure, occasionally tossing an old boot or shabby undergarment over his shoulder while yelling, “Hey, Tina, isn’t this one yours?” (“Uh, yeah, actually, I was wondering where that had got off to …”)I should apologise at this point, for people who thought this might actually be a proper review. I don’t think I can rightly call it a review, as it’s not focused on the book’s literary merits (or otherwise) but wholly on my emotional experience of reading it, which evokes my responses to his other works, too. All his prodigious talent aside, I read Murakami because I feel as if he touches on something deep and elusive in the world, and in me as part of the world, that I can only barely begin to grasp at myself, like chasing butterflies: something I sense is there, but that is ephemeral as a shadow in my peripheral vision. The fact that he works his magic through characters who are themselves often difficult to connect with (and yet, we do connect); with characters who are usually damaged in an somewhat vague but significant way; with characters who love to have “nice, long talks” but who often cannot say what they most need and want to say; and with plot twists that challenge our suspension of disbelief, even within the madness of Murakami World, makes him all the more fascinating to me.This book is composed of two different but symbolically-related narratives which are unfolding for the protagonist simultaneously: one in which he is an actively conscious human data processor fleeing from those who want his brain; and one in which he is a wanderer at the End of the World, who has been cleaved from his shadow (which holds his memories), who is falling in love, and who is trapped in the fortress of his subconscious “core.” (Please note: I am using the phrase “End of the World” to refer to an actual place in the book, as well as to one of the narrative streams in the book. When referring to the place, I will not italicise the name.)Specifically, what has got to me about Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is the austere and chilling beauty of the End of the World tableaux. I finished the book before bed, and dreamt of a walled town frozen by winter and of golden, perishing unicorns. I have not dreamt of unicorns since I was about 12 years old. Usually, writers do not have that kind of power over me. My brain might incorporate some element of a story I’ve just completed into my sleeping life, but I cannot remember a writer’s images ever appearing so strikingly and specifically in my dreams, just as they did when I was conscious and reading the words.Murakami’s use of archetype and symbol is powerful, and surely one of his greatest attributes as a writer (a bone for the review). Sometimes, these symbols are universal, or else paying homage to a writer he admires himself; but more often, they are his own inventions. For instance, surrounding the town at the End of the World, there is a walled fortress representing the impenetrable isolation of the individual mind, which is a likely allusion to Kafka et al; but it’s used in a fresh way that works beautifully in the given context. Within that wall, there are symbols that I’ve not encountered elsewhere, such as unicorn skulls that hold the residue of human memories. These skulls must be “read” by a dreamreader in order to cleanse them, thereby removing the stultifying poison of personal identity (called “mind”) from the townsfolk, in order to preserve their sublime tranquility. This becomes, then, both the cost and the benefit of eternal repose: losing one’s mind. I won’t go on about this because I don’t want to spoil it for others.The Hard-Boiled part of the book is a circus of crazy fun and mad peril, providing a good antidote to the somberness at the End of the World. Be warned, though, that there are some tense and distressing scenes, such as one involving a mild version of torture (if one can imagine torture on a scale of light to murderous). Having said how much I’ve enjoyed the the entire book, now I feel obliged to point out that some readers will hate the way Murakami writes about the female characters in this portion of the novel. Our protagonist is nameless (unless I missed his name somewhere), as are the other characters, so they are given nicknames according to their work role or their most conspicuous physical feature. So, the brilliant 17-year-old sidekick in the Hard-Boiled narrative is referred to throughout the book as “the chubby girl,” although never in a contemptuous manner; in fact, the protagonist clearly admires the girl and finds her attractive in many ways, while stopping short of sleeping with her when she asks. (This is interesting in itself, though, since Murakami’s men rarely turn down sex, and since a female’s age – very young or very old – has not served as a barrier to sex in any of his other books that I’ve read.) Nevertheless, one feels that the plumpness of this vibrant young woman takes precedent over everything else about her, and that continually referring to her being overweight serves to diminish her as a person, whether or not it is intended maliciously.This focus on the female body continues with the woman who becomes our protagonist’s love interest. She is called The Librarian, but she is depicted almost entirely in terms of her physicality: how she looks, how she moves, and what and how much she eats. There are plenty of men who are hyper-focused on the physicality of whatever gender they are attracted to, so it’s not difficult to imagine that there are some in the world who categorise women in a similar way ( i.e. “chubby,” “great legs,” etc.) at least privately, even while admiring them. Of course, we have all known women who speak of men in the same objectifying terms; but it’s supposedly funny when women do it, right? Uh-huh. So, yes, part of me is aware that I should be offended on behalf of my gender (probably), and the feminist in me judges me for it; but you know, for whatever reason, this did not put me off loving the book. Partly, this is due to the mitigating effect of the other narrative stream: the End of the World story. There is only one woman in this part of the book, and we are given reason to believe that she is a kind of phantom version of The Librarian in the Hard-Boiled narrative. While the Hard-Boiled narrative has much to say about bodies and how they live, love, and die, all of the scenes in the End of the World narrative are concerned with human minds. The themes here are philosophical and existential, and the gentle love that grows between the protagonist and his Librarian seems to have little to do with their bodies.I recommend Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World unreservedly, while knowing that Murakami is not everyone’s cup of jasmine tea. It may be a good one to start with for people who are not used to reading him, because it’s more fun and action-packed, and less dense and difficult, than some of his others. (Still, though, I find myself pondering the symbolism.) I can no longer decide which is my favourite of this writer’s books but I can say for sure that this is the first one that has entered my dreams. The End of the World is going to haunt me for a while.

I’m sorry this one didn’t get on my radar sooner. It’s quintessential Murakami, blending genres in his signature weird and wonderful way—fantasy, sci fi, noir, fable, magical realism. This novel from 1985 gives us a dystopia and a utopia for the price of one. In the former, our unnamed, thirty-something male protagonist works as a contracted Calcutec in Tokyo, a human encrypting device for the sanctioned espionage group, the System. Their main enemy in the “Infowar” are the Semiotecs, which serve the shadowy, illegal forces known as the Factory. The man takes on a job for a brilliant, maverick scientist (the “Professor”) whose recent discoveries have him hiding out from both factions in an underground redoubt far beneath the streets of Tokyo. These chapters alternate with a world where the protagonist is newly arrived with no memories in a town isolated behind a high wall (the “Town”, the “Wall”). The Gatekeeper forces him to part with his shadow (sure, why not, it doesn’t hurt), and he assumes his job as a Dreamreader, experiencing the shreds of human memories and dreams from unicorn skulls housed in the Town Library. Nice to have a job lined up, so go with the flow. He soon succumbs to the peaceful patterns of existence of this world and the kindness of people devoted to their various jobs such keeping the town running, harvesting resources, and tending to the herds of unicorn beasts.We know we are in for a ride when we first follow our cool, unflappable hero from an austere modern office on a long journey to the underworld in the escort of the Professor’s teen grand-daughter and learn she has to use sign language to guide him because the scientist has somehow erased sound. And that the dark passages through caverns along an underground river are infested with dangerous swarms of creatures (“INKlings”) unleashed by the Factory forces. And that the man’s password for initiating the use of his brain for encoding the Professor’s top secret information is “End of the World.” Soon he learns he is part of an experiment, and that the secret everyone is after lies in new capabilities of his brain and mind and that time is running short to figure it out and take meaningful action. The Professor has given him the gift of a skull, which he figures is an important clue, and he spends a lot of time with a seductive librarian woman trying to identify it. Meanwhile, in the walled town, the man there also is working with skulls and developing a relationship with a librarian. And time is running short for him to figure out the town—should he try to escape before his shadow dies?As a reader, I became hungry myself to understand these mysteries and the link between the two worlds. But all along the way I wanted to linger with the vitality of the warm-hearted characters experienced by the questing dual protagonists. There is much delight in simple pleasures of food and drink, affection and lust, and humor in playful conversation. In the dystopian world these pleasures are contrasted by many outside threats, while in the utopian world the promise of timelessness poses a more internal threat to their reality. There are plenty of interludes for philosophical discussions that spin naturally out of the systems of the two worlds in the same way as Plato used his famous cave as a prop for posing fundamental questions. Some of these reflections are lighter than other. For example, our hero of the Tokyo Infowars is constantly spinning off reflections from old movies, songs, and books. He can spin a bit of aesthetic philosophy so simply: Whiskey, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation. You gaze first, then it’s time to drink.He is a cool customer, so casually brave in situations of danger, but he is quite conscious sometimes of a profound emptiness at his core:My life is nothing, I thought. Zero. Zilch. A blank. What have I done with my life? Not a damned thing. I had no home. I had no family. I had no friends. Not a door to my name. Not an erection either. Pretty soon, not even a job.His awareness of his flaws makes him sympathetic to losers in literature, especially in Turgenev and Stendhal. For example, he identifies with Julien Sorel in “The Red and the Black”:Sorel’s basic character flaws had all cemented by the age of fifteen, a fact which further elicited my sympathy. To have all the building blocks of your life in place by that age was, by any standards, a tragedy. It was as good as sealing yourself into a dungeon Walled in, with nowhere to go but your own doom.Much more discussion by the characters in both worlds concern the nature of the mind and identity, their dependence on time and memory, and the reality of the unconscious. I won’t spoil the fun here, but I will tantalize you with some out-of-context nuggets: Without the mind, nothing leads anywhere.It’s not so strange that when your memories change, the world changes.As you create memories, you’re creating a parallel world.…we all carry around this great unexplored ‘elephant graveyard’ inside us. Outer space inside, this is truly humanity’s last terra incognita. … ‘Tisn’t a burial ground for collected dead memories. An ‘elephant factory’ is more like it. There’s where you sort through countless memories and bits of knowledge, arrange the sorted chips into complex lines, combine these lines into more complex bundles, and finally make up a cognitive system. A veritable production line, with you as the boss. Unfortunately, though, the factory floor is off-limits.Of course, ever since the modern age, science has stressed the physiological spontaneity of the human organism, But as soon’s we start askin’ just what this spontaneity is, nobody can come up with a decent answer. Nobody’s got the keys t’the elephant factory inside us. Freud and Jung and all the rest of them published their theories, but all they did was t’invent a lot of jargon t’get people talkin’. Gave mental phenomena a little scholastic color.Humans are immortal in their thought. Though strictly speakin’, not immortal, but endlessly, asymptotically close to immortal. There’s no time to tautologies. That’s the difference between tautologies and dreams. Tautologies are instantaneous, everything is revealed at once. Eternity can actually be experienced.I am a fan of science fiction, and this tale has enough scientific hand-waving to tickle the same pleasures I got from Stephenson’s cyberpunk tale “Snow Crash”. The fun wasn’t from the plausibility of the premise (that a computer virus that could infect human communication in the latter), but all the shenanigans that were built on it. You probably guess already that the utopian world here is an imaginary world from the perspective of the “real” world set in Tokyo. But it so brilliant to me how Murakami can us get twisted up in the prospect of such an imagined world having an epistemic reality, when both his worlds are so chock full of fantasy elements anyway. Simply delicious. It’s of the same order as the mind fracking of Mieville’s “The City and the City”, but a lot more satisfying in it’s cohesiveness and playfulness.
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Reviews
Ben
Whew, blew me away. The influences from Orwell and Kafka are clearly here. Existential meditations, amazingly imaginative, the multitude of interesting and important thoughts that can sprout from the reader's mind. The whole thing is pure genius."That's the way it is with the mind. Nothing is ever equal. Like a river, as it flows, the course changes with the terrain."Typically, Murakami works his way through your subconscious, toying with recognitions of the past and future, in that magical state much like a dream (but slightly different), where you lose time, and explore and recognize parts of yourself; all while occasionally getting hit with an outburst of powerful consciousness. Some of his novels (Norwegian Wood and South of the Border, West of the Sun, for example), play with the more sentimental sections of the subconscious; but this, this is an overt exploration of the dreamlike state -- an ingenious, different world with human beings with human thoughts and emotions like us, yes. But really you're thrown into two different surreal lands, both existing simultaneously; one world in which life is more "real" than the other; that, we assume as our base, or our "reality." In that reality, we have our narrator: our narrator has run into an amoral, genius scientist, who plays with our narrator's brain. In the subconscious of our narrator's brain, we have our "other world" (also known as "the end of the world"). This is the world that seems less real. It is a world where people have literally lost their minds. No, they aren't crazy: in fact, it's just the opposite. Without their own minds, they have no meaningful life; no strong emotion-- no music. No love. Just work. In "reality" our narrator has a limited amount of time before he falls into his subconscious (the end of the world?) and lives there eternally. In his subconscious world, he is trying to escape, and has limited amount of time to do so, there, as well.Of course, no plot summary can do this book justice-- it's full of thought provoking nuance, and is probably best read twice. "It's not so strange that when your memories change, the world changes." There are a number of different theories that come to mind after finishing this. Some are still hitting me, and you know what? Each theory is fascinating and important in its own way. I don't want to put any spoilers in here, but I'd love to discuss this novel with anyone else who has read it.
Marvin
Another amazing novel by Haruki Murakami. The book is actually two stories told in alternating chapters: "Hardboiled Wonderland" is a Chandleresque science fiction detective tale about a sort of cyber-empath that is caught between two factors, The System and The Factory which are fighting for dominance. "The End of the World" is a Kafka influenced fantasy about a town in which unicorns exists and the inhabitants are separated from their shadows. The main protagonist comes to this world with no memories and is given the job of Dream Reader. Both stories continue separately from each other until they finally merge together at the end. This is an existential novel about identity and connection, two major themes in Murakami's works. But unlike much of his writings, there is more of an ending and most, but not all, connections are tied up in a satisfying climax. While most of the authors' works have fantastical elements this is the first one I read that is actually pure science fiction/fantasy. I rate it as good as Kafka By The Shore and The Wind-up Bird Chronicles which is high praise indeed.
Nuno
I'm speechless, and I can bet professor didn't cut my sound off, but that's a whole other story, except that it actually isn't.This is Murakami at his best. I've now read the majority of his major works, being this, doubtlessly, his foremost. Well, I won't lie, saying that I didn't roll my eyes out of exasperation and annoyance whilst reading the first chapters with all of these particularly unfamiliar characters. The basic thoughts of 'oh-my-god-not-this-I'm-a-middle-aged-guy-caught-in-the-middle-of-an-odd-woman-trying-to-escape-from-a-rather-queer-situation-again' immediately flood into my mind. Withal, I'm happy it turned out to be exactly like that. The thing is that, when it comes to Murakami, you always know what to expect but then again you never know what the fuck he is up to. The crossing of both worlds is perfectly made despite the fact that they're only plugged near the end. It is funny how the so-called End of the World happens to be such an (un)pure place, where everything happens to be nothing and where good doesn't meet bad, nor vice versa, which wouldn't seem so redundant after all.Sci-fi never hit me that hard - just kidding, it really did - but this one, oh my, this one. I honestly don't know how one can master so many different subjects as this man does. His 'Encyclopedia Wand' shit was just. (I can't really find a word so I'll just make use of < just > as if it was an adjective. But yeah, the point is: it's good.). I just can say no bad about this. I held my pee for the last 30 pages, just so I wouldn't have to get off of my bed and stop reading this - it gets really thrilling and believe me, at some point, you'll scarcely be able to stop, which, according to my point of view, includes torturing your bladder.
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