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Hard Boiled Wonderland and The End Of the World,
This review is from: Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World (Paperback)
This book begins as a surreal sci-fi/ thriller; a first person narrative. A sardonic hero descends into an underground lair of a mad professor. Like James Bond crossed with William Gibson. Then in Chapter Two the whole book takes a sideways swerve and changes in tone and style. Here Murakami uses the past/present tense to evoke an allegorical, fantasy, folk-tale atmosphere, this works better than the "Hard Boiled" sections. It is the story of a man arriving at a strange town which is surrounded by a high impenetrable wall where there is only one way in and no-one ever leaves. The inhabitants have only titles: the Gatekeeper, the Librarian. This alternating chapter structure continues throughout the book and at first the contrast between the two styles seems jarring and hard to reconcile; almost an elaborate exercise in literary styles. I'm a great fan of Murakmai's work but have to say that I found this book quite hard to get into. In the end though perseverance paid off - just. Murakami is nothing if not a master storyteller, and gradually the two parallel narratives draw you in, begin to bleed into each other and create resonances. There are the familiar Murakami themes: the passive male protagonist (you can hardly call him a hero) trying to make sense of a world where things happen, often violent, unexplained, out of his control; the capable, smart teenage girl who falls in with him and his misadventures; the obsessive references to food (especially Italian) and popular music (especially Bob Dylan); the Library as both location and metaphor for the mind (to make the point this library keeps not books but unicorn skulls); the becalmed, dreamlike town whose inhabitants are trapped in a strange passive limbo. These tropes will be familiar with those who have read his other (better) books like `The Wind Up Bird Chronicle', `Kafka On the Beach' and Norwegian Wood' . It's not giving too much away to say that it soon becomes obvious that the two very different heroes in each sequence are the same person and the his quest is into consciousness itself - another now familiar Murakami theme. He gets quite bogged down in the theory of all this and even provides some (very cute) diagrams. What is the significance of the unicorn skulls? Why is the unnamed hero being pursued and threatened by goons from the System? Will he get the girl? Which One? Will he be reunited with his amputated shadow and escape the Town? As in all good thrillers these questions are answered after a fashion but you don't read Murakami books for that sense of closure. The book does reach a conclusion but it was quite a while after I'd finished reading it that I realised what it was. It's that kind of book. The telling of the tale matters more to him and there are truly moving passages towards the end, especially in the elegiac End of the World chapters. In hindsight the whole book can be read as a meditation on consciousness and the end of life itself but that is really to place too heavy a burden on what is a light, readable if typically oblique book.
Would I recommend this book? Certainly. It's not top-notch Murakami but then second best Murakmi is a good more involving than much fiction currently on offer. If you've not read any of his books, this probably isn't a good starting point. For that go to `Norwegian Wood' or the wonderful `Kafka On The Beach'.