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Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World - Haruki Murakami, Alfred Birnbaum

I just don‘t know what happened here. This is possibly the first Murakami I didn‘t love. And I cannot even pinpoint why that is. From the very beginning Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and I did not click. I had to work my way in and had to put it down several times and restart because I couldn‘t get into it. Then I pretty much forced my way through it. And I wouldn‘t be so baffled about this if I hadn‘t loved Murakami‘s stuff before. This bothers me especially because I get the impression that this one usually seems to be a favourite among his fans.

Now let‘s look at the novel and try to explain my (non-)reaction to it. It has everything I have recently loved about this author‘s work. It has weird worlds (two of them); it has the usual quite inaccessible characters with their almost boring lives. It even has the descriptions of cooking and eating that I love so much in his other novels. It also has magical realism.

And maybe that‘s one thing that bothered me. The magical realism here was more on the fantasy side and not so much on the weird/magical-things-happen-in-reality-and-still-noone-is-bothered-by-them-side. (Sorry, I don‘t know how else to put this.) The bizarre fantastical and dystopian setting made it seem less realistic and therefore it was a lot less creepy and uncanny than other worlds created by him. I am by far more creeped-out and actually get goose bumps from the eerie two moon parallel world of 1Q84 than this freaky unicorn-land or the non-descript futuristic Tokyo of this novel.
So maybe this is one reason why I couldn‘t connect to it. The world just wasn‘t fleshed out and not convincing enough.

O, and all that talk! With Murakami I am used to the fact that I don‘t understand why the characters have to talk about some things and how these conversations develop the way they do (and I‘m probably not supposed to understand that) but I had a feeling that most of the conversations in Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World are simply filler material. There is almost no moving along of plot - there is almost no plot, for that matter - and the characters are meandering from topic to topic not revealing much of themselves or the world that surrounds them. Most of the time I was simply bored - there was a lot of eye-rolling on my part.

Writing this makes me so sad. I never would have thought I would not like something of his and I can only hope that it is just his very early work that simply doesn‘t have an effect on me. I guess it will be a long time until I dare read Murakami again. I do not want to taint all the good memories I have of novels like Afterdark or Kafka on the Shore.

Something just occurred to me: maybe I have outgrown Murakami. Not in the way that I am too good or too intelligent or whatever for his work. But maybe it‘s just that my literary taste has changed. But then wouldn‘t I think differently of his other stuff, too? Ugh, I don‘t know. Maybe I need to reread my favourites in order to find out what was wrong with this one.

This gets two stars because the premise sounded so good and it actually did have some typical Murakami-stuff in it and for a very brief period I thought I could get into it.

And because I can‘t bring myself to give only one star.