Review: Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End of The World

“Euphoria. My erections had been perfect as the pyramids at Giza…”

And so goes the wonderful novel by acclaimed Japanese neo-novelist, Haruki Murakami, noted for his hyperkinetic, blend of postmodernism, cyberpunk, and hard-boiled detective fiction. A couple of things really stand out about Mr. Murakami that make him an almost indispensable writer in these sordid days where postmodern pens are a dime a dozen, and I hope to highlight these in my review.

First off, the novel gives you nothing. At least not easily. The sparse descriptions and odd plot constructions are designed from the ground up to put the reader where Murakami wants the reader to be. He makes your bed lovingly and then demands you lie down in it. From there it’s up to you whether you like it. Chapter titles are not really chapter titles at all, but random associations of phrases that gain importance and meaning as the novel dashes toward its fantastical close (more on this later).

The novel is set in slightly futuristic Japan, when the ultimate currency is information. Though this isn’t so different from today, cryptographic schemes have increased due to the invention of a new method of data encoding known only by its slang term: shuffling. This method uses the human brain as a sort of blind encoding device that encrypts the data using a key that not even the agent performing the encryption is aware of. Clearly, our narrator is one of these agents. And also clearly, not all is well with this ethically-interesting method of encryption as savvy readers may be quick to grasp.

The remainder of the novel is an excellent exploration of identity through a number of different avenues–don’t want to give anything away–that rarely lowers itself to the realm of the pedantic. Murakami knows himself well enough to know that smart readers will reach for a book of philosophy (or Barthelme!) if they want that sort of treatment.

Though Murakami’s style is oft-described as “hyperkinetic” (noted earlier) I have to take a defensive stance against this label, at least in part due to his treatment of the ending. Though he does possess a huge amount of dry, cynical wit that makes itself known through the excellent localization of the book by translator Alfred Birnbaum, his writing is far too deliberate and insightful to give it the intense, caffeine-jacked label that “hyperkinetic” connotes. As an example, take the meeting between the narrator and the thugs in Chapter 15. What we get is a beautiful and loving homage to hard-boiled detective fiction, with each prototypical thug in place during the scene including the smartass, smooth-talking thug and the burly enforcer thug.

There is just too much deliberateness; too much intentionality to call this style hyperkinetic. He is a careful, methodical writer and this strength shows its hand in the end of the novel.

As the novel pushes hard and fast through to its conclusion the reader is given all the clues and the mystery is revealed. Interestingly, however, unlike an O’ Henry story, the weight of his telling doesn’t diminish when his hand is played. Instead, the author manages to pen an ending that is touching, heartfelt, and plays a quietly beautiful counterpoint to the constant thrum of styles and genres that the novel tries its hand at.

And this ability to make the postmodern more palatable–gin with a twist of lime–is a testament to Murakami’s skill as a writer and as a man who deals with big ideas like identity and consciousness.

I look forward to devouring another treat of his very soon.

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Final Score: 93%

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3 Responses to “Review: Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End of The World”

  1. psh. i was going to read this book soon, which is why i refuse to read the rest of the post. the only point that i can relate to is the terrible construction at the beginning. that’s probably why i stopped reading past the 5th or 6th chapter.

  2. Windup Bird Chronicle. Windup Bird Chronicle.

    Windup Bird Chronicle.

  3. j: It’s still worth the read. It gets better as it goes on and really hits a home run with the ending.

    Give it a chance!

    jason: I know. I know.

    I know.

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