Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of The World by Haruki Murakami (And, Here’s To Beginning The Japanese Literature Challenge 9!)

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“Well, it’s like this. Deep in your consciousness there’s this core that is imperceptible to yourself. In my case, the core is a town. A town with a river flowing through it and a high brick wall surrounding it. None of the people in the town can leave. Only unicorns can go in and out. The unicorn absorbs the egos of the townpeople like blotter paper and carry them outside the wall. So the people in the town have no ego, no self. I live in the town – or so the story goes. I don’t know any more than that, since I haven’t actually seen any of this with my own eyes.” (p. 359)

And that, from the first person point of view of our narrator, is about as succinct a description of this bizarre book as I can record. Bizarre, but of course wonderful at same time.

When the novel opens we are in an elevator, an elevator as big as an office, which travels so smoothly it is hard to tell if it is moving at all. It opens to reveal a chubby, lovely seventeen year old girl dressed entirely in pink, who takes him to a dark abyss into which he must jump in order to meet an old man in “a secret laboratory behind a subterranean waterfall just to escape inquisitive eyes.”

The old man is the girl’s grandfather, a biologist who says he is researching the mammalian palate. Apparently he has hired our nameless narrator, later called a Dreamreader, to launder and shuffle numbers by converting them in his brain.

Two entities are at war with each other over data; one is the Calcutecs who protect information, the other is the Semiotecs who steal information. Here, in part, lies the hard-boiled detective stuff, for when our narrator is given a skull from the old man as a present, it is the Semiotecs who break into his apartment to steal it. Apparently, this skull has value for reasons not entirely clear to us. (Only later do we discover that this is where the minds are kept.)

Alternating chapters with the grandfather, dark slimy tunnels, a seventeen year old girl and our narrator, are parallel chapters in which he dwells in the Town. The Town has a Wall, and a River, a Gatekeeper and a Pond. But, it doesn’t have anyone’s shadow. Those who dwell in the town must be severed from their shadows, which are sent to exile. “As the Gatekeeper warned you,” the old officer continues, “one of the conditions of this Town is that you cannot possess a shadow. Another is that you cannot leave. Not as long as the Wall surrounds the Town.”

The Town resembles Stepford to me, or the land where It dwells in A  Wrinkle in Time. It does next seem that its inhabitants (such as the Colonel, the Gatekeeper, the Librarian) are allowed personal choice, or freedom to be themselves. In fact, it seems as if they have been robbed of emotions which make life less than orderly. The Librarian, in fact, is unfulfilled. No matter how much she consumes for dinner, she is never satiated. She claims it is because she has a gastric disorder, but I think the emptiness reflects her heart, rather than her stomach.

Our narrator’s shadow tells him:

“Just now, you spoke of the Town’s perfections. Sure, the people here-the Gatekeeper aside-don’t hurt anyone. No one hurts each other, no one has wants. All are contented and at peace. Why is that? It’s because they have no mind.”

“That much I know too well,” I say.

“It is by relinquishing their mind that the Townfolk lose time; their awareness becomes a clean slate of eternity. As I said, no one grows old or dies. All that’s required is that you strip away the shadow that is the grounding of the self and watch it die. Once your shadow dies, you haven’t a problem in the world. You need only to skim off the discharges of the mind that rise each day.”

We read this novel to look at parallel universes which Haruki Murakami presents to us. We read it to dwell in the fantastic, and finally, to ponder the mystery of it all. The Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of The World won the Tanizaki Prize in 1985. Part science fiction, part fantasy, part “hard-boiled” detective (influenced by Murakami’s admiration for Raymond Chandler), this novel is all Murakami.

Some favorite quotes from this book:

They who never wanted family are now lonely old men.

Maybe no one finds it, or even misses it, but fairness is like love. What is given has nothing to do with what we seek.

~o0o~

With this novel begins the Japanese Literature Challenge 9. It runs from June, 2015 through January, 2016, and for the challenge you “must” read only one piece of Japanese literature. I have listed the people who indicated interest, or said they would jump in with both feet, below the button. I hope that anyone else who desires to read Japanese literature will join us in our discoveries. How excited I am to begin! Welcome! Please find the review site here.

JLC9

Participants:

Gary at Pomes All Sizes
MarinaSofia at findingtimetowrite
Carol at Brilliant Years
Jacqui at Jacqui Wine’s Journal
Sakura at Chasing Bawa
Claire at Word by Word
TJ at My Book Strings
Jackie at Farmlane Books
JoV at JoV’s Book Pyramid
Suko at Suko’s Notebook
Iliana at Bookgirl’s Nightstand
Nadia at A Bookish Way of Life
Kelly at Orange Pekoe Reviews
Ally at Snow Feathers
Terri at Terri Talks Books
Rare Bird at a murder of crows
Cathy at 746 Books
Akylina at The Literary Sisters
Edgar at Simple Images 2
Brona at Brona’s Books
James at James Reads Books
Mee of Bookie Mee
Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza

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27 thoughts on “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of The World by Haruki Murakami (And, Here’s To Beginning The Japanese Literature Challenge 9!)”

  1. As you know, I’m a big fan of Raymond Chandler, so this sounds like a Murakami novel I might get along with. (I’m not sure if I’m the right reader for some of his novels as my experience has been a little mixed…so it goes) That said, I am curious about the world he creates. Love your review of this one – a great start to your celebration of Japanese lit!

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    1. Jacqui, I know that you only tentatively committed, and please don’t feel I’m obligating you to participate. I hope that you’ll find time with Strangers, a book I loved.

      This one is very strange, but I don’t expect anything different from Haruki Murakami, with whom once I suspended my disbelief, I grew to love. Both Raymond Chandler andRaymond Carver are said to be among his favorites. (Carver, as you probably know, wrote What I Talk About When I Talk About Love, from which Murakami derived What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.)

      Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of The World might be a good one for you to try, especially as it is well loved and a prize winning novel.

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      1. Oh, I’ll definitely read at least one Japanese book to participate, you can be sure of that! Thanks for the advice on how to approach Murakami’s novels and for recommending Hard-Boiled Wonderland. I did enjoy A Wild Sheep Chase, so there’s hope for me yet. 🙂

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        1. Kafka on the shore was the book that turned me on to this writer. Murakami was such a Chandler fan that he translated his works & visited him when he went to the USA.

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            1. Kafka on The Shore was my first book, too, and that is the book that made me “fall in love” with Murakami’s work. I can’t say that I always understand exactly what he intends, but I love a quote of his that we should be “wide open to possibility.” I take that as permission to interpret his books as I see fit.

              Anyway, I second Parrish Lantern’s admiration for Kafka on The Shore.

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    1. This was so complicated! Even more so than Kafka on the Shore with its parallel stories. And the ending! I’m still reeling that he decided to stay in the Town for his Librarian love. I’m not quite sure what I would have decided personally, although I have been a sucker for love.

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  2. I’ve not read this one, but it definitely sounds like vintage Murakami (which I love!). The only Chandler book I’ve read is The Big Sleep and I remember enjoying it. I love that Murakami uses his influences in his novels – music and authors – makes the books feel more personal. I’m excited to start reading for the JLC9. I’m not sure what I’ll read first though. I was leaning toward Yoshimoto, but Murakami’s books always beckon, so who knows. However, for now I’ll be reading Stephen King’s latest, Finders Keepers.

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    1. The Big Sleep is the only Chandler book I’ve read as well, and I read it just because I saw Murkami refer to it. When I see the authors, and musicians, he writes about it makes me want to get to them immediately. (That’s also the reason I bought Raymond Carver’s collections of short stories which are fantastic.)

      I’m so glad that you’ll be reading for the JLC9. I only have a few Murakami’s left unread, which I guess in a strange way I’m “saving” so that I’ll always have something to look forward to. TJ from My Book Strings and I are reading Naomi in June, which you and everyone else are welcome to do as well.

      Have fun with Finders Keepers!

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  3. I loved this book! It is probably the most bizarre Murakami I’ve read so far. I’m currently reading a lovely little Japanese book called The Hunting Gun and hope to have my review up soon. Thanks for hosting this challenge. I hope it encourages more people to try a few Japanese books 🙂

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    1. Jackie, really, it is so weird! I wish that we could have gone out for a coffee or something when I finished it because as I said to Parrish Lantern above, I’m still a little in shock from the ending. Did you anticipate that he would stay in the Town and “forsake” his shadow/self? Do you think it was worth it for love? I’ll be thinking about that for a long time.

      I’m so glad that you are participating in the JLC9 again; it’s wonderful to have the steadfast participants return every year.

      I’m unfamiliar with The Hunting Gun, but look forward to your review.

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  4. This is the only Murakami I have read. “Most bizarre” – you mean they’re not all like this? I remember reading about Norwegian Wood and wondering if I had mixed up the authors – this can’t be by that Hard Boiled Wonderland guy, can it?

    I vaguely plan to join in on the Japanese event, but I have no idea what I might read. Many months to take care of that. Maybe Sōseki; those are pretty old.

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    1. Nope, they’re not all like this. But, many of his novels are filled with parallel worlds, and magical realism, like this one. Norwegian Wood is probably the most realistic of any fiction he’s written; that book and this one are the two that launched his popularity even though they’re quite different.

      Actually, you might like his nonfiction books. Underground was a fascinating account of the sarin gas attack on Tokyo. It brought to light the courage and the strength of the Japanese people in a remarkable way. I’ve heard What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is also fabulous, but I hate running so I haven’t read it.

      There’s always the choice of a classic. Would you be at all interested in Tanizaki’s Naomi with TJ and I in June?

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  5. I think I’ll join in this year. Since I have until January to read a piece of Japanese literature, I’m sure I can complete this challenge. I might even read this one, though at this point, I’m kind of saving Murakami books for my retirement. I don’t want to run out of them once I have the time to really sit down and read.

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    1. I know exactly how you feel! I don’t want to run out of Murakami books, either, and there are only a few for me that are left unread. Although, I could stand to reread every one of them and gain something new each time.

      As I offered above, feel free to join TJ and I in Tanizaki’s Naomi which we’re reading this June.

      So glad you’re joining in, James.

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  6. I haven’t read this one, but I have it here, waiting for me 🙂 Anyway, I have decided what I am going to read this summer for the challenge and the post will soon be up. Also, I am eager to read “Boredom” with you in July. Thanks for being a great inspiration! 🙂

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    1. I’m looking forward to seeing what it is that you choose to read, Ally, as always. So glad you’re joining in again this year! And, won’t it be fun to read more Moravia together? I had never read anything by him before, and I’m eager to read more of his writing.

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  7. I love the cover on this one.

    The quote —–They who never wanted family are now lonely old men.—was great as well—very true.

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    1. It’s so strange, Diane, how you’ll be reading along in a very strange book and all of a sudden you’ll come upon this nugget of truth that Murakami has written. I love finding them, like little surprises along the way. Glad this struck you, too.

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  8. Hi Bellezza! It’s been such a long time since I’ve participated in any of these things, but I still remember the Jap Lit Challenge being one of the first I joined back when I was really active!

    Would love to join in this challenge to see what other Jap Lit books out there. Am planning on reading Kokoro by Soseki. =)

    BTW, the link to the review page doesn’t seem to be working?

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  9. This is why I love your reviews:

    The Librarian, in fact, is unfulfilled. No matter how much she consumes for dinner, she is never satiated. She claims it is because she has a gastric disorder, but I think the emptiness reflects her heart, rather than her stomach.

    I never made the connection between her appetite and the emptiness of her life. Thank you for the lovely review.

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