Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

“Everyone may be ordinary, but they’re not normal.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 416 pages.
Read from August 14, 2018 to September 11, 2018.

Further down the rabbit hole I go as I try to read all of Murakami’s extensive list of published works. I picked this one up because a friend had read it an enjoyed it and well, the title; it’s definitely peculiar but it is an understatement to the strangeness of this plot.

There are two parallel narratives with many unnamed characters that take place in this book; The End of the World is full of whimsical beasts and a town where everyone is content, though neither joyous or unhappy because they do not have shadows. The End of World is narrated by a newcomer who is trying to figure out how to rejoin with his shadow while also continuing his work as the dream reader at the local library. The other realm, Hard-Boiled Wonderland, is set in a futuristic world and the narrator is a divorced loner and data processor who comes to help a rogue scientist with his data while meeting his chubby, attractive daughter. The curious and scandalous events with the scientist, bring the data processor to his local library to try and learn more about his experiences, in which he meets the attractive librarian that will help him unravel some of his questions. Little does the data processor know, that the events that take place with the scientist will alter his reality and leave him with an unfathomable choice. As this extensive metaphor unfolds, you come to realize that the choice the data processor makes mirrors of that of the newcomer in The End of World…

Hard Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World by Micah Lidberg
Image created by Micah Lidberg. Source: Paddle8

I’ll just say this now. This has been my least favourite Murakami novel so far. While I appreciate what Murakami was trying to draw on with the conscious and the subconscious mind, he failed on delivering it in an enjoyable and cohesive manner. Murakami literally spent pages, trying to explain all the details to get the reader to understand his complex metaphor and the differences between the two worlds. The setting and the characters were not that engrossing and the metaphor was too forced and waaaaay to drawn out. The End of World was the most fascinating place but I also found the nuances and complexities of Hard-Boiled Wonderland less so. I also got really tired of the way the data processor viewed the chubby underaged daughter of the scientist (especially with the emphasis on her weight) and the sexualization of the librarian. I know it wouldn’t be a Murakami novel without weird sex, that is something I like about Murakami, but this scenario just did not work for me.

I still enjoyed enough aspects of this book to give it a fair rating but it is not a book I would partake in again (even if it meant potentially understanding and appreciating it more) nor would I recommend it as a go-to Murakami read. It is a whimsical read with fun and intriguing aspects but it is also an ambitious read as it’s literally a 400+ page metaphor. If you’re up for the challenge and are prepared for its intricate strangeness and philosophy you might find more enlightenment and enjoyment from this book than I did.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

“The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend!”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 304 pages.
Read from August 31, 2018 to September 7, 2018.

Winner of the Pulitzer prize in 1921, Wharton’s talent has continued to be celebrated with her widely cultivated novels. I first read Wharton when I was in university with The House of Mirth, a book I did not expect to like but became enthralled with the writing style and characters.  While many of Wharton’s books are about unhappy marriages, what continues to make them so popular is Wharton’s fantastic prose as well as an in-depth analysis and commentary on women in society.

Newland Archer, a man living in high-class society New York in the 1870s, has recently become happily engaged. May Welland is well-suited to him and the two of them appear to be the perfect match. However, Newland’s whole foundation is shaken as he makes the acquaintance of May’s curious and beautiful cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska. Ellen has become the scandalous talk of the town as she has abandoned her very wealthy husband in Europe. In all appearances, she seems to be attempting to walk away from a perfectly matched marriage that has made her a Countess and very wealthy. However, she is willing to sacrifice it all. Newland is entreated by May to be kind to Ellen and to make her feel comfortable in New York as well as advising her legally, that she should not file for divorce or risk losing everything. Headstrong, Ellen does not seem to care for the societal rules in New York and brushes them off as having been raised with European customs. Newland soon learns that Ellen has her own set of ideals and above all else, yearns to be free.

“Women ought to be free – as free as we are,’ he declared, making a discovery of which he was too irritated to measure the terrific consequences.”

Without meaning to, Newland falls hard for Ellen as he begins to question his own feelings for May, his own identity, as well as the basis and cultural rules of the society he lives in.

Women wanting to be free, it is that very theme that keeps women, no matter what the ear, coming back to books like this. While things may have changed and have improved for women since Wharton’s era, many men and women, still feel trapped by certain aspects of society and by what is expected of them. Society is so prominent in this book it is the antagonist. It is a character in and of itself. Wharton does a phenomenal job of drawing you into this superficial life and then shatters it for you like she does for Newland’s. Ellen shows Newland the other side of society, what its like when you don’t fit it and once that facade is broken there isn’t any going back. The characters and their inner dilemmas stay with you long after you have finished their story. This is truly a beautiful book and if anything, should be read and marvelled for its prose.

“He had built up within himself a kind of sanctuary in which she throned among his secret thoughts and longings. Little by little it became the scene of his real life, of his only rational activities; thither he brought the books he read, the ideas and feelings which nourished him, his judgments and his visions. Outside it, in the scene of his actual life, he moved with a growing sense of unreality and insufficiency, blundering against familiar prejudices and traditional points of view as an absent-minded man goes on bumping into the furniture of his own room.”

I would recommend this book for anyone who has ever wanted to read Wharton and doesn’t know where to start, prose-lovers, classics-lovers, romance lovers and historical fiction lovers.

 

The Secrets of Evil by Robert Bolaño

“This story is very simple, although it could have been very complicated. Also, it’s incomplete, because stories like this don’t have an ending.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 144 pages.
Read August 31, 2018.

Should books be published posthumously? Books like Go Set A Watchman changed the way fans looked at some of their favourite characters and its publication created a lot of controversy about whether or not it should have been. With this particular book, many Bolaño fans seemed thrilled for another chance to read the last remains of a brilliant writer. I for one, am also glad. Robert Bolaño died in 2013, at the age of fifty, of liver disease. This book is a compilation of stories that were discovered on his computer after he died.  Despite having not read anything by Bolaño beforehand, this book was given as a very thoughtful gift and reminder that even the most talented of writers have a process and that not everything that they write is going to be palatable right away. Knowing these small details about this short story complication allowed me to really appreciate its contents, albeit even unfinished.

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Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño. Source: The Globe and Mail

One of my favourite stories in this compilation is “Colonia Lindavista”. This dream-like narrative involves a young teen writer who often listens to his neighbours having sex. late at night. The narrator is curious about their acts but is more intrigued by the silence that follows. The narrator, like many of us, wonders about the private lives of other people.  Many of the stories are brief and offer a glimpse into the private realm of a character but don’t mistake this brevity for lack of depth, Bolaño’s writing style is more than equipped to deliver a full immersion into a character or story.

I read this novel in one sitting, and I would recommend the same for any readers looking to approach it as if you read the stories individually you may not be able to fully appreciate the stories as some are more ‘finished’ than others. The biggest take away I got from this novel is a reflection on my own writing and enforcing my ‘never-give-up’ attitude. It has also instilled a desire to read more by Bolaño to get a better taste for his work as I sense a genius lurking in between the pages of this short compilation.