Which Murakami Do You Love? (a book review)

March 13, 2009


I am a big fan of Haruki Murakami.  If you follow my reading list on Goodreads, you’ll soon see this.  In addition, a few of my previous posts have mentioned my love for Murakami.  (And, no, I’m not speaking about this Murakami.)

But, it’s not just my love for (the writer) Murakami which makes me love Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World.  It’s another part of my personality too.  In specific, it’s my love for other universes.  Some may characterize this as science fiction novels.  Science fiction, for me, is too broad.  I like novels that present other worlds, sure, but other realistic yet fantastical worlds.  (See: Ender’s Game or Y: The Last Man).  I’m also a fan of geeky things like computers or language in novels (See: Snow Crash or The Future of Ideas).

Murakami’s novel brings a bit of each of these things, which is why I think it strikes my fancy so.

In his seemingly dual narrative, Murakami tells two stories “Hardboiled Wonderland” and “the End of the World.” Though the two stories may differ in time, place, and the extent of their realism, the entire novel is written in Murakami’s idiosyncratic style of writing – his ability to hit tongue-in-cheek on the same page as mind-blowing ideas with sexual innuendos to boot.

Other Murakami stories may hit upon fantasy or surrealism, (e.g. Kafka on the Shore), but none seems to hit the pinnacle that is HW&theEoftheW.

As I said, however, creating alternate realities does not mean that Murakami loses his sense of self.  In other words, those stereotypes of science fiction writers – the formulaic scribe, the purveyor of aliens/warriors/talking animals – do not apply easily.  Murakami writing – its poetic simplicity – is, well, out of this world (literally and non-literally).

To illustrate, let me turn to a random page of my copy (isbn: 0-679-74346-4):

Whiskey, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation.  You gaze first, then it’s time to drink.  (page 240)

Musical instruments are very beautiful,” I answer.  “There is nothing strange about that.  (page 294)

At eleven o’clock, I had visitors.  Considering the sequence of events, it was about time.  Still, you’d think they could have rung the bell before trying to break the door down.  No, they had to come in like an iron wrecking ball, making the floor shake.  They could have saved themselves the trouble and wrangled the key out of the superintendent.  They could also have saved me a mean repair bill.

While my visitors were rearranging the door, I got dressed and slipped my knife into my pocket.  Then, to be on the prudent side, I opened the safe and pushed the ERASE button on the tape recorder.  Next, I got potato salad and a beer from the refrigerator for lunch.  I thought about escaping via the emergency rope ladder on the balcony, but why bother?  Running away wouldn’t solve anything.  Solve what?  I didn’t even know what the problem was.  I needed a reality check.

Nothing but question marks.  I finished my potato salad, I finished my beer, and just as I was about to burp, the steel door blew wide open and banged flat down.

Enter one mountain of a man, wearing a loud aloha shirt, khaki army-surplus pants stained with grease, and white tennis shoes the size of scuba-diving flippers. … (page 131).

After a creative writing teacher I had in undergrad (turned fly fishing extraordinaire), I like to call well-written writing, “yummy.”

Not only is Murakami’s writing deliciously yummy but I get thirsty reading Murakami’s pages.  If a writer could turn you into an alcoholic based on the amount the characters drink, Murakami would be one hell of a bartender.  And, in fact, he is (registration required from the New Yorker website…if you want a hardcopy of the article, e-mail me!)

If you’ve never read Murakami, or if you’ve never read Hardboiled Wonderland, I say “dig in!” or “bon appetit!”

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3 Responses to “ Which Murakami Do You Love? (a book review) ”

  1. girly_so_groovy on April 7, 2009 at 10:27 am

    I love, love, love Murakami. His style is so darkly comedic, so rich. His characters have a depth that I envy as a writer. Descriptive but still encompassing an air of mystery. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World…that book alone… :::salivating:::
    The flip-flip between the two interlocking narratives made it a real page turner.

  2. Sean on May 28, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    I first discovered Murakami by chance, with the novel A Wild Sheep Chase. I was instantly a fan (and I consider myself a fan to very few), and I followed that one up with Hard-Boiled Wonderland etc… I still haven't read the ones that have been huge hits around the world, but I will get to them. I am excited about his new book, 1Q84, though I have no idea how long it will take them to translate it into English.

  3. revisingproust on June 4, 2009 at 3:15 am

    I had no idea about his new book. I am adding it right now to goodreads. thanks!

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