Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

HARD-BOILED WONDERLAND AND THE END OF THE WORLD: A surreal tale with a touch of science fiction

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is one of Haruki Murakami’s early novels, and it is one that is aptly titled. The most significant part of its title is the word ‘and’, for it splits the title into two parts. What makes this important is the fact that the novel is actually divided into two narratives. Hard-Boiled Wonderland is the story of a Calcutec, a human data processor. From this outline, it is fairly obvious that the story incorporates science fiction themes, but these themes are rather vague and not expanded enough to turn off those who are not interested in such subjects. The science fiction elements are just there to present a distinct flavour into the narrative. The End of the World is about a man who finds himself in a mysterious town that is surrounded by a wall. This story features dreamlike elements -- like how the man needs to get rid of his shadow and how the town is inhabited by rather magical beasts. This is a tale that has so many things between the lines, so many symbolisms that are very open to interpretation.

What I really like about this book is its storytelling. The book flips back and forth between the two narratives, but still it doesn’t appear to be a dirty mess of jumbled plotlines. The transitions are done in a very smooth fashion, so the shifting of focus doesn’t appear abrupt. I find this alternating style to be very inventive and interesting as a reader. What makes it even more interesting is when the two narratives start to show hints that they are interconnected, but whether they are or not, that is for the reader to decide. That’s the real magic behind this book. Not everything is spoon-fed to the reader. There is always room for conjecture, which is always a good thing, for it provokes the conception of different ideas. Thus, the book is open to debate and further discussion.

The characters of both stories are not very complex, but not too simple to pass as flat and boring. In fact, some of them have very distinct personalities that make them very enjoyable characters. And, sometimes, their interactions show hints of romance, which is actually not new in Murakami’s writing.

Speaking of Murakami’s writing, I must say that the prose of this book is much smoother compared to the other Murakami books I have read. I’m quite sure that it is because of the English translation of the original Japanese text. I would like to congratulate Alfred Birnbaum for doing a terrific job in the translation, for not relying too much on fragments and snappy sentences just to appear profound.

Despite my positive feedbacks, I still declare that Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is not a book for everybody. Haruki Murakami is one of those authors who readers will find to be either good or downright awful. Some are turned off because his tales are just too weird -- weird enough to pass as unreadable. However, this very feature of Murakami’s tales is the reason why others love him. In the end, it’s all in a matter of preference.

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