I changed my mind

Sort of. I just wanted to write about Murakami some more. I finished “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World” today and I highly recommend it. I think it’s his best novel. It combines noir, speculative science fiction, and mythology, managing to transcend all of them. It also manages to tell two entirely different stories in one book, alternating chapters set between the Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World.

The premise is rather interesting: in the Hard-Boiled Wonderland chapters, a nameless narrator who shuffles data with his mind is embroiled in a war of information between the System and the Factory. There’s a brilliant scientist, subterranean laboratories, INKlings (creatures who live in the sewers underneath Tokyo), and a librarian.

In The End of the World chapters, a nameless narrator is living in a walled Town from which no one ever leaves. He is charged with reading the dreams of skulls in an old library. He is also forced to cut off his shadow, which lives outside the town as it plans an escape. There is a librarian here as well, and unicorns.

I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying that this novel is once again concerned with reality, identity, and the dreamscape. It is more concretely philosophical while being entirely gripping through its employ of science fiction.

I want to say that the ending is a wonderful subversion of Western literary standards. The novel is also, of course, concerned with Western culture and references everything from JG Ballard and Casablanca to Bob Dylan. It reminds me of “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” and “Midnight’s Children” through its use of oblique references, half of which the average reader (and I, even as an Americanized reader) didn’t quite catch.

I haven’t felt such strong emotions since reading Disgrace, and while I don’t wish to compare the two, I feel like Murakami has achieved something equally forceful here, albeit by a different route.

The most important question posed by Murakami is the idea of the self and the function of the mind in the creation of that self. In a small way, the novel is also about the idea of free will, and the choice to live a life of self-awareness.