LITERATURE: Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World

First of all, let me say that I’ve been reading this book like forever, or at least it seems that way. To be fair, my mind had been retrained to seek the immediate resolution of flash fiction and thus a novel-length book was suddenly overwhelming unless it was quick-paced action that required little involvement from the reader. Murakami demands more.

I’m not totally convinced that the story itself and even the writing wasn’t falling a bit short of my expectations. Surely McCarthy or Faulkner would not have let me put them down for weeks at a time. And this story of Murakami’s is not one that is easily followed unless you keep in mind that there are two stories here: likely the same narrator, a futuristic analyst with a brain implant who is caught up in a weird world of a scientist and his granddaughter in one; and in the other, a dream reader who must give up his shadow and live within the confines of a town walled in and watched over by a Gatekeeper. The former is written in the past tense, the latter in the present.

The thing with Murakami is that he manages to create unusual environments, lay them out, people them with characters with whom for some reason, have depth but do not truly elicit empathy, juggle pace and plots so that sometimes reading two pages is a chore and sometimes reading twenty flies by in a snap, include dull details interspersed with danger and action, and toss action and danger amid dull details.

There is no real lovely language here; it is stark and perfectly suited to the dreary starkness of both worlds. Even in the simplicity of words the settings emerge real enough in the reader’s mind–even if it’s not what Murakami himself imagined. Therefore, there wasn’t anything I read that sent me dashing off to the laptop to blog about and share, until this:

No, these holes could go on forever. And I would never get to read that morning edition. The fresh ink coming off on your fingers. Thick with all the advertising inserts. The Prime Minister’s wake-up time, stock market reports, whole family suicides, chawan-mushi recipes, the length of skirts, record album reviews, real estate, . . . (pg. 235)

This is the narrator’s thoughts as he’s following the scientist’s granddaughter through a slick black plateau of holes from which leeches emerge in this underground world. The thought is odd because as the story is evidently the future, the looking back to a more normal present for this character goes further back to a time not of DVDs or CDs but of “record album” reviews. And newspapers–which have already become a rarity for morning reading.

Even as I feel these two stories are of the same character and are separated by time, there is at last a reference in one of the other:

Back to the newsreel, arcs of water shooting across the screen, spillway emptying into the big bowl below. Dozens of camera angles: up, down, head on, this side, that side, long, medium, zoom in close-up on the tumbling waters. An enormous shadow of the arching water is cast against the concrete expanse. I star, and the shadow gradually becomes my shadow. (pg. 238)

This, in the dark underground world, as he is following the granddaughter to some sort of safety. This, while in the parallel narrative, he has given up his shadow to the Gatekeeper.

And, a hint at what is perhaps being drawn out as a theme; the loss of self? No names are given to the narrator nor any of the main characters. They are the Professor, the Colonel, the chubby granddaughter, the Librarian, etc. This would also tie in with the rather flat characters who we never-the-less endow with a sense of reality. And just at this point in the story, the narrator also begins to realize that when he gave up his shadow, he gave up his memory, his own sense of who and what he is.

I’m not sure whether the story’s getting better at this point or I’m just coming down from a flash-fiction high and learning to concentrate for longer than two minutes, but I know I’m enjoying the story more and want to read, rather than pushing myself out of guilt.

(Still, I must admit that reading the jacket blurb describing the book as  “hilariously funny” isn’t something I remember feeling at all.)

This entry was posted in LITERATURE and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to LITERATURE: Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World

  1. Dorothee says:

    So interesting, to read your notes, especially this: “The thing with Murakami is that he manages to create unusual environments, people them with characters with whom for some reason, have depth but do not truly elicit empathy..”
    i read 2 or 3 of Murakami’s novel, but i think all of them in German. and last year, i read his non-fiction book on running, and very much enjoyed it, as it’s also about writing. i just looked for the blog post about it, and arrived at this note with quote:
    ..i picked up the Murakami book again. in the chapter i read today, there are some insights into Murakami’s way of working. he writes every day. gets up at 4, writes until noon. goes jogging, to keep himself fit. he also does marathons. he writes a novel in a year. and then spends another year doing rewrites. some parts he rewrites 10-15 times. and he makes an interesting comparison between jogging and writing – with a reference to zen: “writing is like jogging. i come to a point when i know that i achieved something that until then, i only tried for all the time. it’s like moving through a wall. you simply have to slip through it.”

  2. susan says:

    I’m liking it better, in these last 100 pages, but I’m surprised that I haven’t really been able to post much more often as I used to. In other words, things like language, concept, phrasing, exceptional skill at pace or metaphor, aren’t standing out for me. That’s not to say it’s not terrific writing, just that nothing in particular stands out. Which in the opinion of many, is a good thing; the writing not overtaking the story.

    Interesting to read your notes on how Murakami works; I’m sure he does rewrite and rewrite. There is definitely evidence of a smooth flow of thought, skill at transitioning between the two worlds.

Comments are closed.