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D.T. Magus (Shizuoka, Japan)

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Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World
Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World
Price: £5.98

5.0 out of 5 stars What strange place is this?, 17 July 2014
I first read this book on a long bus journey from London St. Pancras to Amsterdam. In retrospect, this seems to me like the perfect setting for reading this book. The idea of being on a journey to an unfamiliar place and encountering the unknown encapsulates what this novel is about.
Like many of Murakami’s novels, the “Hard Boiled Wonderland” chapters deal with one man’s existence in a warped and psychedelic rendition of today’s Tokyo. As with his other thirty-something, male protagonists, the narrator of this story must bear witness to the comforting rug of mundane life being pulled out from under his feet, as he is quickly swept up in a series of chaotic events which may compromise the very core of his existence. In these chapters, we encounter a creative cast of characters, who help guide us through this distorted world. The exaggerated personas of these people and the events they set into motion help counterbalance the grounded thoughts and personality of our protagonist, which gives the whole novel an aura reminiscent of a lucid dream. The plot is part thriller, part detective story and hurtles along at a breathtaking pace which makes this a real page turner. Of course, there are points of reflection throughout the action and it is here that Murakami’s trademark descriptions of music and everyday details really help bring this distorted realm to life.
If the “Hard Boiled Wonderland” represents the untameable river that sweeps us into the unknown, then “The End of the World” exists to remind us that at some point, we have to accept the repercussions of the journey we have taken. In the parallel reality that plays out alongside the events in Wonderland, our second narrator finds himself in a strange town surrounded by walls, where he must perform a task that he doesn’t fully understand. These sections bear the strong influence of Franz Kafka, and are shrouded in mystery and intrigue. They are also far more sombre in tone than the parallel chapters, and deal with themes such as loss, acceptance, grief and hope. I personally found these chapters the perfect counterbalance for the fast paced action in Tokyo, and I found Murakami’s treatment of the more abstract themes to be subtle and evocative.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has enjoyed Murakami’s other books, but I believe newcomers with an open mind and a willingness to embark on a surreal journey will enjoy it too. It is a strange and often beautiful story which has stayed with me long after my bus from London reached its final destination.

Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour
Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour
Price: £4.35

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Looking Glass Into the Heart of Englishness, 16 July 2014
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Having left England over a year ago to live abroad, reading Kate Fox’s insights into the anthropology of English culture was as eye opening as it was a comforting taste of home.
Spending some time away from the green and pleasant lands has given me a chance to reflect on what it means to be English and I think overall Kate makes a very strong case.
An English person reading this will likely associate closely with the habits and behaviours that Kate associates as typically English. I can also appreciate how her observations would be mightily helpful to non-natives living in England who will likely find many of our habits baffling.
What makes the book such an appealing read however is not simply the witty anecdotes and observations, but the humour with which the author recounts them, often poking fun at herself and English culture on the whole - How very English!
The only real downside to the book is that it’s very formulaic. Each chapter consists of outlining the behaviours of English people within different categories such as home rules, workplace rules, sportsmanship, pub etiquette etc, before analysing these behavioural patterns in accordance with the rules that underpin our culture such the class system, humour and fair play. Whilst the observation - analysis - summary format gets a little tiresome after a while, it is understandable of a book which sets out to prove a hypothesis in a clear, scientific manner.
All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in English culture, as it provides convincing arguments as to why the English act as they do. I think it would be particularly helpful to non-native person living in England who wants to decipher the bizarre tapestry that is Englishness.

American Gods
American Gods
Price: £5.49

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An epic supernatural road trip which, when all is said and done, falls a little short of its potential., 16 July 2014
This review is from: American Gods (Kindle Edition)
This is a story about ancient gods and their struggle to survive in a world where their fickle worshippers have abandoned them in favour of advertisements, technology and consumerism. Shadow is an ex-con who gets catapulted into a crazy world where he finds himself helping the old gods reclaim their relevance. Throughout the book, we follow Shadow on his journey through America as the sidekick of the enigmatic Wednesday, recruiting disenchanted gods to help win a war that will bring them back to their former glories.
If the premise sounds intriguing, rest assured that it is, unfortunately the execution lets it down slightly. The best parts of the book are the parts spent encountering the old gods who have been forced to live human lives in America after their once loyal worshippers have either died or forgotten them. More interesting still are the occasional glimpses into the gods’ true forms which are spectacular and often terrifying in equal measure. The Ifrit and The Queen of Seba scenes are just a few that spring to mind. There is no denying the Gaiman’s imagination is one of the best in modern fiction, and “American Gods” never falters in the imagination department .
Another commendable aspect is the characters themselves. From the ever mysterious Wednesday to the fear-inducing Czernobog, Gaiman’s characters are a unique and interesting bunch with a strong motive directing their actions. Whilst it is natural for the reader to back the cause of the old gods, it is never made explicit that they have morally superior reasons for their actions than the new gods do. This lends their exploits some moral ambiguity, where it is left to the reader to decide which group is on the side of right, or indeed whether either of them are.
With a host of such great characters, it is a shame that the only character I never really clicked with was Shadow, the protagonist. Gaiman paints him as an observer for the majority of the novel - things just sort of happen to him and he goes along with it. It is only near the end where he starts taking a more pronounced role in the conflict and subsequently his own destiny. I found it was at this point, the book picked up steam after a long lull.
And that long lull is the biggest detriment to the novel as a whole. After the old gods have made their dramatic appearances and we learn what their plan entails, Shadow is abruptly cut off from the action and finds himself in the sleepy town of Lakeside. Here the plot almost completely loses it’s momentum as Gaiman focuses on the much more mundane drama of Lakeside’s residents and the town’s history, none of which is all that interesting. It does have a serviceable murder mystery sub plot, but I didn’t find it as interesting as the main plot line. It was during these middle chapters where i’ll come clean and say I almost gave up.
However with that in mind, i’m glad I powered on. The ending is largely satisfying although it is left open to interpretation, which I enjoyed. Looking back on the journey as a whole, it’s one which left some very strong images thanks to the vivid characters and their fight for survival. It definitely drags in the middle which prevents me from wholeheartedly recommending it, but I think if you have the patience to see it through, “American Gods” is a road trip you’ll be glad to have embarked on.

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