Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1985) by Haruki Murakami Review
There exists two worlds. The first takes place in the “Hard-Boiled Wonderland”, where human data encryption systems called Calcutecs work for the quasi-governmental System to help protect data from being stolen by Semiotecs, fallen Calcutecs who work for the Factory. One Calcutec essentially learns that he has a day and a half before his consciousness leaves the world he knows and delves into the infinite subconscious of his mind. The other world takes place in a fantasy lite place called “The End of the World”, a strange, isolated town where residents do not have a mind. A newcomer arrives in the town and starts learning the process of “Dreamreading”, where he learns to read dreams from the skulls of unicorns. These two parallel narratives converge in what results to be an exploration of the consciousness and the subconscious, asking questions about identity.
From the synopsis, it’s easy to get confused. In fact, reading this was a difficult one. This is hardcore Murakami. This does not hold a candle to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or Kafka on the Shore as they still take place in the modern world (with elements of magical realism). This, on the other hand, feels alien. This feels like an entire new world created by Murakami, submerged in one another, concepts and ideas floating around the air, hard to grasp. This is one of his most surrealistic, those with plots that are made not in order to be grounded nor down-to-earth, but those that are made to make the readers think.
The story is divided into two narratives with two different storylines loosely connected upon one another. One felt like cyberpunk fiction while the other more fantasy like. After reading it, it’s still in my head. I’m not even sure if I was able to get everything that Murakami intended for the reader, but the themes are there. This novel presents characters (mostly unnamed) that do strange tasks that don’t seem real at all. These plot events are symbolized for the reader to ask about the importance of time and how things don’t always appear as they usually are. This isn’t merely a novel of grandeur plot but more of a life paradox, where two things that seem to have nothing in common may in fact be strongly connected to one another.
Having said that, this novel suffers from the elements that I find in a good book. It’s slow paced and hard to keep up my interest at times, the science words and terms mostly going past my head. The characters also all feel like the same person. This may be what Murakami intended but for the reader, it’s sometimes hard to see who’s talking and which is which. This isn’t a thrilling novel of a sorts, but more of a philosophical one at that.
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World may not be my best Murakami experience, but it’s still worth giving a shot. It’s vastly original, the novel dipping itself in ideas of its own and worlds unlike any other. It certainly takes a lot of patience to get to the end, but once the read finishes, it’s all worth it. The exploration of ideas are very deep that it’s hard to grasp sometimes, but that’s where the fun comes from.