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- Davies, Robertson — Tempest-Tost (The Salterton Trilogy) (235 pages)
- Davies, Robertson — Leaven of Malice (The Salterton Trilogy) (218 pages)
- Davies, Robertson — A Mixture of Frailties (The Salterton Trilogy) (311 pages)
- Austen, Jane — Pride and Prejudice (274 pages)
- Murakami, Haruki — Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (400 pages)
Page count: 6,266 of targeted 12,500.
I've seen a few Murakami novels lying around the house—HWMBO is a fan—and that began to pique my interest. Then I read some stuff online that praised his novels, especially Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I decided I wanted to give him a go. I asked HWMBO if he has a copy, and he does, which he hasn't read yet.
I spent half the book trying to decide if I liked it or not. The prose was quite readable, despite certain problems that I assume stem from translation, and the premise was interesting. I spent the second half of the book hoping it would take a turn for the better, that I would find some quality that would validate all the positive reviews. (One fellow remarked in a review somewhere online that this was simply the best book he has ever read—poor impoverished soul!)
I really wanted to like this book, but there were too many stumbling blocks to get over. Right off the bat, the author's racism and sexism set a negative tone. It was nothing uncharacteristic of Japanese society—a description of skulls as mongoloid, caucasoid, negroid, etc., and casting all women in subservient roles—but unsettling nonetheless. The dialogue justified the sparsity of dialogue—during one dialogue I actually thought of the line in the "Hotel Royale" episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Troi asks Picard, "I don't believe this dialogue. Did humans really talk like that?" (To which, of course, Picard responds, "Not in real life. Remember, everything that's going on down there is taken from … a second-rate novel.") Murakami spends much too much time describing pointless details, such as listing every item in a menu or every store along a street, and that criticism extends to the endless name dropping: I really don't need to be impressed with every obscure Turgenev or Stendhal novel he's read or black-and-white movie he's seen or performance of classical music or jazz he's listened to. It adds nothing. The interesting ideas Murakami conjures up (alternate worlds with unicorns, shadows being detached from bodies, intricate experiments into how the brain processes information) turn into one large-scale exercise in pointless mental masturbation riddled with faulty pseudoscience and unsatisfying, rambling attempts at explanation.
I'm disappointed. This could have been a fascinating read. There are kernels of good ideas sprinkled throughout that a writer with real skill and imagination could have done something with. Murakami, at least in this case, falls far short of that mark.