Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
by Haruki Murakami
This novel pulled me in and held me spellbound, occupying that favored niche known as my night book” the one I read for 15-45 minutes before falling asleep. I prefer good fiction as my eyes fail and I grow tired.
This story is not easy to characterize, being part science-fiction, part mystery, part existentialist drama, and part psychological thriller. What more could one ask for from a novel, really? Murakami, who my 20-year-old daughter has been pushing on me with wild enthusiasm already for a couple of years, is a brilliant prose writer, and the translation from Japanese by Alfred Birnbaum must be great because it’s taut, whimsical, ironic, and pointed. If any previous book I read came to mind it was Phillip K. Dick’s “Through a Scanner Darkly,” not because the stories are really similar, but because this book is the only other one I’ve read that really gets inside a brain that is completely halved itself. I can hardly imagine such a schizoid reality; in Dick’s novel it’s brutal and painful and hard to take. In Murakami’s it’s funny and amazing, hard to believe but weirdly hopeful too.
Something about the tone of this novel kept reminding me the author is Japanese, but then around ¾ of the way through it, that finally fell away, only to re-emerge when the final scenes unfold in Tokyo. I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to the daily experiences and psychological worlds of contemporary Japanese (or any other era, for that matter) so I often found myself wondering if this book reflected that or not. Probably not, because Murakami is clearly a virtuoso, an imaginative genius, and like all great writers, captures a certain universal “truth” about our condition.
This is my first full novel of his, though I recall reading a New Yorker story a year ago or so. That was rather more somber than this novel, which is occasionally hilarious, but mostly utterly absorbing. But I’ll be voraciously going through his writings now. I’m really intrigued to check out his nonfiction. He apparently wrote a book on the Sarin gas suicide cult that attacked the subway system. Another real-life metaphor for larger dynamics I suppose.
Anyway, top rating for this one.

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