Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is, I must begrudgingly admit, a great Haruki Murakami novel. One of his first, it is archetypal in its use of themes and characters and ideas. It is, really, the ultimate Murakami novel. But, having read about half a dozen already, the whole thing felt familiar. And not a sweet kind of familiarity, but the cloying familiarity one feels wiping ones anus: I’ve been here before.*
Maybe I’ve come to this novel at the wrong time, possibly it’s my age, or maybe I read it too slowly (a week is too long to read a novel). Fuck it, these excuses are bullshit: I’ve read too many similar novels by the same novelist and this one failed to thrill for that reason.
Initially, I enjoyed the book. It has a nice split-narrative structure that is firmly resolved by the end and manages to keep both threads interesting and moving steadily the whole way through. To begin with, I enjoyed all the “classic Murakami” tropes I kept finding, and acknowledged that they were inserted with a little more sharpness than usual. There were all the references to music, to literature, to brands; there was “weird stuff” happening in a quasi-real Tokyo; there was a little bit of fake science; there was an “alluring” teenage girl who the divorced man in his thirties doesn’t have sex with even though she’d be up for it if he did want to…**
And that’s what I mean. Everything was familiar – everything that happened felt like it could have happened in another novel, every character felt like a Murakami character I’d read before. And this is an unfair criticism for one simple reason: when he did it here, it was new.
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World was Murakami’s fourth novel (I’ve gone away and checked this), and it was his first (in terms of length) “big” book. This was written in the mid-1980s and it reflects its time very strongly (lots of Duran Duran), but ever since this, Murakami has found success rehashing the same thing. Tbf, he is often mocked for the similarities in his books, but this means the book where he defined his style feels almost like a pastiche. By the end I was pissed off every time I was given a recipe, an old novel was referenced, a Bob Dylan or jazz song was played, every time the main character had a drink***… I sighed inwardly with a “yes, you’ve done that before” in SO MANY PLACES. But, in reality, he hadn’t.
It’s odd to read through a novelist’s works and come to the “masterpiece” last. I can see why this would be enjoyable, and that would be not having already read 1Q84 and Dance Dance Dance and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle****
Murakami’s books are enjoyable and his ideas are interesting. But they’re consistent. Which I am formally and publicly saying is bad. Be inconsistent, world.
* I’m not really certain this metaphor holds up. Obviously one never wants the unexpected to happen whilst cleansing post-poo. Whereas it would’ve been nice in the book…
** The book was lacking cats and eroticised ears, though.
*** The drinking is excessive here (imo, as a bartender), and this must’ve been written back when Murakami ran a bar and thought three beers at 10am then driving in central Tokyo was fine…
**** For me, this last one was the real highlight. But, again, that might be because I read it first. No, bollocks, it’s a much stronger novel.