154 of 160 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 1999
I purchased this book on a whim - the descriptions sounded interesting enough to merit a look.
Boy was I stunned by it. One of the best books I've read in a long time and probably one of the best novels I've read that's been written in the last 20 years.
Beautifully written (and translated) it spoke to many different sides of me. The novel brilliantly fuses a number of different cultural genres (science fiction, mystery, film noir, fantasy, magical realism, "cyberpunk") into a mix that, amazingly, works very well. Try to imagine a collaborative effort by Garcia-Marquez, William Gibson, and Walker Percy and you almost might be able to envision what this book feels like to read. Who else but a Japanese author could make such an intriguing pop culture cocktail?
Besides being a genre-bender, the premise of the book and the questions that it raises concerning the relationship between humanity and technology, the soul and the mind, and the individual and society are quite thought provoking.
Did I mention that the book is very funny at times too?
This is unlike any other book you'll ever read. Definitely worth checking out IMHO.
79 of 84 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2005
Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World follows two distinct and parallel storylines, both with unnamed narrators who might or might not be the same person. In the first storyline, the narrator is a "Calcutec", a computer specialist working for "The System" to protect data against the "Semiotecs", an organization of powerful black market information pirates. Called down into the sewers below Tokyo against regulations and against the law, the main character agrees to "shuffle", or encode the work of a nutty professor who says he has discovered a way to make bones talk! His life might be in danger though because all the major powers want a piece of this new technology. This plotline alternates chapters with a more fantasy type idyll about a town surrounded by an impenetrable and unscalable wall, in which the narrator tries to figure out who he is and how he came there. There are other inhabitants but all their comments are pretty cryptic. But there's some bizarre stuff going on. For example, there are unicorns grazing around the town, you lose your shadow, and the narrator is given the job of "reading dreams" from the skulls of strange beasts! He must set about figuring out how to escape unless he wants to be trapped there forever.
This novel was weird but refreshing. I thought it was pretty clever of Murakami to almost write two books in one, the first being a cyberpunk adventure and the other a strange surreal fantasy. But it worked. Don't worry, these two stories within a novel do have a purpose in being joined together, even though you might not understand all the "physics" talk when explanations are given. You get the gist of it. Harold Bloom once said that what gives a novel its lasting greatness is that it has to be strange. Murakami more than lives up to this thought and makes you feel as if you've entered a new world. That's a good thing. It really gives you a sense of wonder and mental adventure which you don't find too often in literature these days. I look forward to reading his other works.
If you liked this book, I would highly recommend viewing a Japanese anime called Haibane-Renmei which was greatly influenced by the fantasy parts of Hard-Boiled Wonderland.
72 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2000
This is simply the best book I have ever read! I was hooked from the first page and drawn into the world of the narrator as subtly as one is drawn into a dream. The linking of the subconscious and conscious elements of the mind are at work here, and this is what makes this book all at once so wonderful, disturbing and enlightening. It is a psychological masterpiece and lays bare the interconnectedness of all things- the people in our lives, the places, the choices we make, our dreams, desires, longings and regrets and most importantly, the often inexplicable and enigmatic relationship between our subconscious and conscious mind. The masterful way Murakami interweaves the chapters begins with a divergent simplicity and gradually progresses to a complex, synchronistic web/mandala in which all points share a beginning yet have no end.
50 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 1999
At some point along the way on your journey through "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World"--in my case, not until I had read the last page and closed the book--it may occur to you, Why, this isn't a modernistic, subversive, radical treatise on the ravages of contemporary society and the havoc that technology has wreaked on us, it's just an old-fashioned book about aging! The two halves of the book--"Hard-Boiled Wonderland" and "The End of the World"--represent, to my mind, youth and adulthood, respectively, and the protagonist--as well as the author--appear to find themselves poised in thirtysomething limbo, trying to decide what they want their lives to be like from hereon out. "Hard-Boiled Wonderland" certainly seems to be the more fun of the two worlds--exotic women, delicious food, cool cars, high-paced city living, and infinite possibilities for what career to choose, which woman to settle down with, and what town to live in. But Wonderland is certainly more dangerous--all that high-tech mafia business, gruesome violence, flesh-eating monsters, broken-into apartments, splitting headaches, and hangovers from those crazy nights drowning your confusion in whiskey. It's enough to make a thirtysomething guy long for a little peace and comfort. That's where "The End of the World" comes in. End of the World is everything Wonderland is not: one monogamous partner, gruel for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, no mode of transportation other than your own two feet, and nothing more exciting to do than stare off at the mountains or the smoke stack from the Power Plant or wait for the herd of beasts to come trampling through the town every evening. Your career is decided for you--you will "read dreams" from unicorn skulls in a musty old library--and you will settle down with such-and-such woman, who's the only available woman around, and you can never leave the high-walled town or even find out what's outside it. You can't even go outside in the daytime to see the light without your special dark glasses on. All this comfort starts to seem a little dreary to the narrator (who has no idea how he arrived there and can't remember his life beforehand), and he has to make a choice near the end of the novel whether to follow his Shadow (i.e., his soul) back into the exciting but treacherous spirit of his youth or to continue on forever in the calm but melancholy End of the World he has "created." I won't spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that it's a little surprising, makes more sense the more you think about it, and ultimately feels utterly natural. And despite the surface experimentalism of the novel--witty and inventive as it is--this theme of living in one's youth forever or accepting the idea of old age is probably one of the oldest themes in literature.
In such an experimental novel, the author is taking a risk that the unique style in which he writes to convey the message he has to give may affect our enjoyment of the book. Unfortunately, the two worlds are so polarized--for good thematic reasons--that they're difficult to read about: Wonderland is just a little too chaotic, the End of the World is just a little too dull. It's the type of book that's easier to appreciate than to enjoy, or more enjoyable to reflect on than to actually read. That said, this was still a wonderful book, my favorite book by Murakami only next to "The Wind-up Bird Chronicle," and it haunted me for a long time afterward.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on September 27, 2005
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
If there was a genre here to bend, break, or quite simply shatter, this book wouldn't be so much genre-defying as it would a two-ton genre wrecking ball.
Many precedents are at once acknowledged and seamlessly woven into an intricate whole; Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, Jorge Borges, Robert Heinlein. Seemingly incongruent styles are melded, switched, convoluted, and turned outside backward.
Not to disclose too much, but the dexterity with which Murakami flits between mirroring realities, (between chapters, no less!) is conceptually breathtaking.
The imagery is so well written and imbued with so much poetic vividity, there are scenes that will resonate in your minds eye for hours after you have turned the page.
In short, there is no preparing yourself for the literary trip you will take with Haruki as your mind-bending guide.
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2004
This has been the first Murakami novel I have ever read, and I must say it is by far the best novel I have read in a long time ! I don't think it is right to simply attach a label like "cyberpunk" or "sci-fi" to the book, because I feel the psychological aspects of the journey of a man towards his inner self are the main focus of the book. The sci-fi elements that Murakami uses to set up the plot to me are merely background settings.
It is a well known fact to each living soul on this earth that death is inevitable, and one generally needs a lifetime to accept that. In this case, the main character is forced to complete his acceptation process within a day. While addressing the absurd question of "what would I do on my last conscious day", Murakami manages to create a cold concrete, painfully touching "radiohead"-like atmosphere in which the main character shamefully realizes the total triviality of his life.
The end of the book still lingers in my head, Murakami uses a lot of references to american pop culture throughout the book, but not just for the simple reference itself. When you will have read the book you will understand his last reference to Bob Dylan's "A hard rain's a-gonna fall":
Oh, what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what'll you do now, my darling young one?
I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin',
I'll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest,
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty,
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison,
Where the executioner's face is always well hidden,
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten,
Where black is the color, where none is the number,
And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it,
Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin',
But I'll know my song well before I start singin',
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2002
As the title perhaps suggests, Murakami's new novel tells in alternating chapters two stories that soon begin to speak to one another as the reader notices details of the one appearing transmogrified in the other - except that "transmogrified" isn't the right word because both stories are so bizarre. The first concerns an agent or "calcutec" for "the System" (ostensibly the good guys, part private corporation, part government agency) whose brain has been altered to allow him to "shuffle" and "launder" data to keep it out of the hands of the nefarious "Semiotecs" - a sort of mafia intent on stealing sensitive high-tech information. The problem for Murakami's nameless calcutec is that his engineered subconscious - the black box in which his shuffling takes place - is short-circuiting (Murakami's sci-fi or cyberpunk account of this is quite elaborate), and when "meltdown" is complete, his world, his conscious self, will disappear, leaving him trapped deep within his own subconscious. It is here, at "the end of the world," that the second story occurs, a world of the narrator's own unconscious creation that takes the form of a walled town from which there is apparently no escape and in which unicorns siphon off the minds of inhabitants shorn of their shadows, both of which alterations leave them immortal but without emotion. In this apparent utopia, the narrator spends his time dreamreading -a lightning-rod or grounding activity performed by tracing the bits of mind stored in unicorn skulls as they are released by his touch in the ring of light rays - and contemplating, among many other things, the possibility and desirability of escape.
As the narrator remarks upon being told his fate, "The Wizard of Oz had to be more plausible," yet plausibility is not this author's concern. Murakami, whose sensibility seems distinctly Western and whose works are awash in allusions to Western culture high and low, is an effortless postmodernist who in a recent Publishers Weekly interview cites Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan as important influences ("The End of the World" chapters recall nothing so much as Brautigan's In Watermelon Sugar, with traces of A.E. Van Yogt's "The Enchanted Village," just as the parallel story recalls variously everything from Gravity's Rainbow to Get Smart). Likewise, Murakami revels simultaneously in sheer plot fabrication and technical experiment, on the one hand, and ideas, on the other. Like Vonnegut and Brautigan, Murakami's technical experiments succeed so unobtrusively that they are in danger of being missed, and his prose is similarly so readable, so seemingly simple and playfully colloquial (thanks here to Alfred Birnbaum), that it can easily be misread as flat and emotionless (witness Paul West's review in the New York Times Book Review). Yet as Murakami has explained in the above-mentioned interview, "Most Japanese novelists are addicted to the beauty of the language. I'd like to change that ... Language is a kind of tool, an instrument to communicate."
And what does Murakami communicate? Among other things, a moving, emotionally understated meditation on mind and identity, on science and humanity, on dreams of utopia and the comforting familiarity and various satisfactions of our messy, flat, uncommon lives. Don't let Murakami's popularity or the current type put you off: do yourself a favor and read Hard-Boiled Wonderland; you won't be disappointed.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 1998
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is the most fantastically written, intriguing, meaningful, exciting, page-turner of a book that I have read in my eighteen years on this planet. It combines two stories (which are, in fact, one), both so intriguing that I couldn't put the book down. (Neither could my mother or older brother.) Murakami's prose is incredibly vivid and action-packed, like a well-filmed movie or a fantastic dream. This may sound artificial, but his writing, in content and style, completely sucked me in and immediately had me hooked and craving more. The characters are fascinating, from the brilliant, American pop-culture-oriented protagonist who also happens to be an extremely "hard-boiled," split-brained, logical thinker, to the young woman who smells of watermelon and whose specialty is a cucumber sandwich. This story has something for everyone. It has futuristic theories on the power of computers; mysterious men who smash pr! ivate property, make threats, and disappear; unicorns; spirituality; creepy underground scenes with creatures reminiscent of Gremlins or Golum; and discussion of American and Japanese popular cultures. There's something for the mystery-lover, the sci-fi- and fantasy-lover, the romantic, the thrill-seeker, and the anthropologist in everyone. More than that, it offers beauty and hope. I recommend it to all.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2008
I picked this book up at random at a book store. Something about the cover just caught my attention, and it seemed oddly familiar.
Over a year later, I finally picked it off my shelf and started reading. Initially, it read like a gritty detective novel. Then, I noticed hints of what felt like an early 80's Cyberpunk novel (which may be a result of it's original 1985 release).
This book is typical Murakami: a main character who thinks himself fairly ordinary, in whom other see something special. There is an interleaved story and many very fine details which make the world come to life. The main character spends a lot of time reflecting and talking about 1960's Japan and Americana.
Unlike other Murakami books I've read, though, this one has a bit of a sci-fi or Cyberpunk flavor to it. Also, this is the first book I've read since childhood that I literally could not put down.
As other reviewers have said: give this book fifty or a hundred pages and odds are good that you won't be able to put it down after that.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2005
I chose this novel to read on the flight to see my dying father, and I was immediately taken out of my own sadness into another way of mind. This is a great, healing, 5 star book about mind and love and letting go responsibly and how important it is to use information wisely and not cause harm in the name of science or personal gain. The compelling protagonist has been a willing victim of an experiment to alter his brain for the benefit of the information age. He learns that his familiar "reality" is ending, because of a flaw in the experiment, to be replaced by a bridge to a "reality" his brain has been creating all along to continue being. He survives a wild ride of circumstance as he is educated to the real facts of the experiment. He learns he must surrender to his science created fate and discovers the exquisite experience of living moment to moment, as if dying. His ordinary routines and chance acquaintances become extraordinary, and he is joyous and grateful for the lesson in what he was ignoring.
I especially enjoy Murakami's ability to create scary underground monsters like the "Inklings" giving just enough detail as in what happens to the victims to leave his reader responsible for imagining just how creepy "Inklings" must be. Many of us had a monster under the bed when we were children. My "Inkling" is my monster under the bed, and yours will be yours.
What a trip! This is a fun, cool, sexy, humorous, and yes, hardboiled wonder of a novel; so smart and sometimes so outrageously confusing, I held the book close, like a departing friend, when I finally read the last word. I thank Haruki Murakami for this ultimately positive and life affirming tale. We never lose those we love, so long as we keep them in our memory. A good reminder to me at this time and to all of us for all time. I feel like I am embarking on a grand affair with his mind's way with story. I look forward to reading more Murakami.