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 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.

 

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

“As we count up the memories from one journey, we head off on another. Remembering those who went ahead. Remembering those who will follow after. And someday, we will meet all those people again, out beyond the horizon.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 238 pages.
Read on August 17, 2018.

I tried twice to get this book from Netgalley, that is how badly I wanted to read it.  I mean, come on, most of the book is narrated by a cat! How could I not!? Thankfully I was able to a copy and absolutely devoured it one sitting. This book has been published since November 2017 but will be published in paperback on October 23, 2018.

I have noticed that I have an affinity for translated Japanese and Korean books. There is something about the style that really speaks to me. Haruki Murakami (who also likes to write about cats) and Han Kang are two of my going favourite authors at the moment and I may have to add Arikawa to the list as well. This book is translated by Philip Gabriel, the same man responsible for translating most of Murakami’s works, and I get the impression he is the best at what he does.

I am not a crier. I don’t think I have ever cried reading a book but damn, this one brought me really close. sad-cat-gif-21.gifI was on the brink of a sad but uplifting-ugly-cry with this story that will bring just about anyone to the same soppy-state.

Nana, as you come to know him, was a stray cat for most of his life and proudly so. He regularly sat on top of a silver van in suburban Japan and one day a young man greeted him. His name is Satoru. Satoru begins to leave out food for Nana, which he cautiously eats. Humans are fickle and are not to be depended on. However, one day Nana gets hit by a car and is left with injuries, that, if left untreated will kill him. He slinks over to where the van is located and screams as loud as he can for Satoru, the only human he has a remote connection with. Satoru takes care of Nana and gives him his peculiar name. Nana is similar to a cat that Satoru grew up with and was tragically separated from after the tragic accident that killed his parents. After caring for Nana for a few months, Satoru however, abruptly decides to try and rehome Nana with no explanation to the reader, despite his clear reluctance to the idea and his extreme attachment to Nana. Satoru takes Nana on a road trip to visit his old school friends in order to find a comfortable and suitable home for Nana.  None of the homes seems to fit the bill but with each visit, you learn more about Satoru’s elusive past and the tragic reason why he feels the need to find a new home for his beloved cat. Nana tries to pretend that he is fine with being rehomed but as the trip progresses he realizes that he does not want to belong to anyone else but Satoru.

Love, family, friends, and loyalty are some of the main themes in this novel all which are sure to hit you right in the feels, even if you are not a cat-lover, though ESPECIALLY if you are a cat lover. The narrative style is light and easy and the author does a great job of slowly piecing together the life of Satoru for the reader and in creating intrigue with Satoru and his mysterious troubles. By the end of the story, I will say that the majority of readers will be in some form of crying; whether withheld tears, free-flow or the all-out ugly-cry.

This story is accessible to every reader and is an easy book to recommend to nearly any family member or friend. This is actually one of those few books I will go out of my way to add to my physical library so that I can re-read and lend out again and again.