I don’t understand everything that happens in Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland (1985), but I love this novel. I love it because it puts into a tangible art form the way I feel in my guts about our confusing and beautiful existence on earth. A sample, about a guy chilling in the park, watching a family feed birds, and getting hit with the profundity of living:
Wide shot: Pigeons, fountain, mother and child. I didn’t want to leave this scene…I closed my eyes, I felt a ripple run through my mind. The wave went beyond sadness or solitude; it was a great, deep moan that resonated in my bones. It would not subside. I braced myself, elbows against the backrest of the park bench.
Yes. While I love that prose, it’s not necessarily indicative of the book’s plot, or even writing style. The book varies wildly in tone and style (more on that below). The quote above is more about the gut feeling you get, which I think is the thrust of Murakami. Another reason I love this book is that it’s a chicken pot pie of all of the artsy things I love: Bob Dylan records, Raymond Chandler (both in writing style and tone), classic jazz, hot librarians, excessive drinking, dreams, jam sessions, Italian food – it’s all here! Murakami is a Japanese man pushing seventy, I’m a mid-30s Texan, but based on this book we’re spiritual twins. It’s a neat feeling to not be alone.
That’s what the music of this book feels like. Plot-wise, it’s also a fun one. The chapters switch off from two different worlds and protagonists. The first is about a Johnny Mnemonic-like cyberpunk information encoder. It’s like a cyber-noir meets action movie. The second world/protagonist is a fantasy tale about a timeless town and a dreamreader. The story flips back and forth. It sounds kind of gimmicky, but it’s not at all. Murakami makes both worlds interesting and worth your time.
I couldn’t put this one down. One of my all-time favorites.
A quick note: I read the Alfred Birnbaum translation. Loved it – not sure if other translations have the same melody and kick.