Monday, November 18, 2013

Case Study No. 1125: The Librarian (Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World)

Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World (Unabridged Audio Book
http://www.qb hard-boiled-wonderland- the-end-of-the-world-unabridged/
Information is everything in Hardboiled Wonderland. A specialist encrypter is attacked by thugs with orders from an unknown source, is chased by invisible predators, and dates an insatiably hungry librarian who never puts on weight....
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Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (Sekai no owari to hado-boirudo wandarando) is a 1985 novel by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. The English translation by Alfred Birnbaum was released in 1991. A strange and dreamlike novel, its chapters alternate between two bizarre narratives - the "Hard-Boiled Wonderland" and "The End of the World" parts.

Plot summary
The story is split between parallel narratives. The odd-numbered chapters take place in the 'Hard-Boiled Wonderland', although the phrase is not used anywhere in the text, only in page headers. The narrator is a "Calcutec", a human data processor/encryption system who has been trained to use his subconscious as an encryption key. The Calcutecs work for the quasi-governmental System, as opposed to the criminal "Semiotecs" who work for the Factory and who are generally fallen Calcutecs. The relationship between the two groups is simple: the System protects data while the Semiotecs steal it, although it is suggested that one man might be behind both. The narrator completes an assignment for a mysterious scientist, who is exploring "sound removal". He works in a laboratory hidden within an anachronistic version of Tokyo's sewer system. The narrator eventually learns that he only has a day and a half to exist before he leaves the world he knows and delves forever into the world that has been created in his subconscious mind.

The even-numbered chapters deal with a newcomer to "The End of the World", a strange, isolated walled Town depicted in the frontispiece map as being surrounded by a perfect and impenetrable wall. The narrator is in the process of being accepted into the Town. His Shadow has been "cut off" and this Shadow lives in the "Shadow Grounds" where he is not expected to survive the winter. Residents of the Town are not allowed to have a shadow, and, it transpires, do not have a mind. Or is it only suppressed? The narrator is assigned quarters and a job as the current "Dreamreader": a process intended to remove the traces of mind from the Town. He goes to the Library every evening where, assisted by the Librarian, he learns to read dreams from the skulls of unicorns. These "beasts" passively accept their role, sent out of the Town at night to their enclosure, where many die of cold during the winter. It gradually becomes evident that this Town is the world inside of the narrator from the Hard-Boiled Wonderland's subconscious (the password he uses to control different aspects of his mind is even 'end of the world'). The narrator grows to love the Librarian while he discovers the secrets of the Town, and although he plans to escape the Town with his Shadow, he later goes back on his word and leaves his Shadow to escape the Town alone.

The two storylines converge, exploring concepts of consciousness, the unconscious mind (or as it incorrectly referred to, subconscious) and identity.

In the original Japanese, the narrator uses the more formal first-person pronoun watashi to refer to himself in the "Hard-Boiled Wonderland" narrative and the more intimate boku in the "End of the World". Translator Alfred Birnbaum achieved a similar effect in English by putting the 'End of the World' sections in the present tense.

In both narratives, none of the characters are named. Each is instead referred to by occupation or a general description, such as "the Librarian" or "the Big Guy."

Hard-boiled Wonderland

The Narrator
A Calcutec in his mid-thirties (35) who, aside from his unusual profession, lives the life of a typical Tokyo yuppie. Although very observant, he gives little thought to the strangeness of the world around him.

The Old Man/the scientist
A great, yet absent-minded, scientist who hires the narrator to process information. He is researching "sound removal". He has developed a way of reading the subconscious and actually recording it as comprehensible, if unrelated images. He had the inspiration of then editing these images to embed a fictional story into the subconscious of his subjects, one of whom is of course the narrator. He did this by working with the System due to the attractiveness of its facilities, though he disliked working for anyone. He later goes to Finland, as said by his granddaughter, to escape.

The Chubby Girl
The Granddaughter of the Old man. She is half the narrator's age, and described as overweight, yet attractive. She helps the Narrator in his journey through the sewers and decides to move in his apartment after the 2 worlds of his will converge.

The Librarian
The always-hungry girl who helps the narrator research unicorns and becomes his 48-hour girlfriend.

Junior and Big Boy
Two thugs who, on unknown orders, confront the narrator, leaving his apartment destroyed and inflicting a deliberately non-lethal but serious slash across his lower abdomen.

Sewer-dwelling people described as "Kappa" who have developed their own culture. They are so dangerous that the scientist lives in their realm, protected by a repelling device, to keep away from those who want to steal his data. It is said that they worship a fish (and leeches). They also do not eat fresh flesh; rather, once they catch a human, they submerge him in water and wait for him to rot in a few days before eating him.

End of the World

The narrator
A newcomer to "the End of the World". As an initiation into the Town, his Shadow is cut off and his eyes pierced to make him averse to daylight and give him the ability to "read dreams", his allotted task. He cannot remember his former life nor understand what has happened to him, but he knows that the answers are held in his mind, which his Shadow preserves.

The narrator's Shadow
Apparently human in form. He retains the narrator's memory of their former life together, but he is doomed to die, separated as he is, and is harshly (but not cruelly) treated by his custodian, the Gatekeeper. Upon his death, the narrator would then cease to have a 'mind'. The Shadow longs to escape from the Town and be reunited with the world where he and the narrator rightfully belong.

The Gatekeeper
The guardian and maintenance foreman of "the End of the World". He instructs the narrator in his duties, and keeps the narrator's Shadow effectively a prisoner, putting him to work – disposing of dead beasts who die during winter.

The Librarian
The Town's Librarian who keeps the beasts' skulls in which the "dreams" reside. She assists the narrator in his work. She has no “mind", but her mother did, and the narrator becomes increasingly convinced that her mind is in fact only hidden, not irretrievably lost. The connection between this Librarian and the other, in Hard-Boiled Wonderland, is never made explicit, although the narrator repeatedly mentions that she looks familiar.

The Colonel
An old man, the narrator's neighbor, who provides advice and support, and nurses him when he falls sick.

The Caretaker
A young man who tends the Power Station in the Town's dangerous Woods. He is an outsider who provides a miniature accordion, a possible key in the narrator's efforts to recover his mind and memories. The Caretaker is banished to the Woods because he still has a semblance of a mind, and cannot be allowed to live within the Town.



It is in the evening a few days later that I go my way to the Library. The heavy wooden door makes a scraping noise as I push it open. I find a long straight hallway before me. The air is dusty and stale, an atmosphere the years have forsaken. The floorboards are worn where once tread upon, the plaster walls yellowed to the color of the light bulbs.

There are doors on either side of the hallway, each doorknob with a layer of white dust. The only unlocked door is at the end, a delicate frosted glass panel behind which shines lamplight. I rap upon this door, but there is no answer. I place my hand on the tarnished brass knob and turn it, whereupon the door opens inward. There is not a soul in the room. A great empty space, a larger version of a waiting room in a train station, exceedingly spare, without a single window, without particular ornament. There is a plain table and three chairs, a coal-burning iron stove, and little else besides an upright clock and a counter. On the stove sits a steaming, chipped black enamel pot. Behind the counter is another frosted glass door, with lamplight beyond. I wonder whether to knock, but decide to wait for someone to appear.

The counter is scattered with paperclips. I pick up a handful, then take a seat at the table.

I do not know how long it is before the Librarian appears through the door behind the counter. She carries a binder with various papers. When she sees me, her cheeks flush red with surprise.

"I am sorry," she says to me. "I did not know you were here. You could have knocked. I was in the back room, in the stacks. Everything is in such disorder."

I look at her and say nothing. Her face comes almost as a reminiscence. What about her touches me? I can feel some deep layer of my consciousness lifting toward the surface. What can it mean? The secret lies in distant darkness.

"As you can see, no one visits here. No one except the Dreamreader."

I nod slightly, but do not take my eyes off her face. Her eyes, her lips, her broad forehead and black hair tied behind her head. The more closely I look, as if to read something, the further away retreats any overall impression. Lost, I close my eyes.

"Excuse me, but perhaps you have mistaken this for another building? The buildings here are very similar," she says, setting her binder down by the paperclips. "Only the Dreamreader may come here and read old dreams. This is forbidden to anyone else."

"I am here to read dreams," I say, "as the Town tells me to."

"Forgive me, but would you please remove your glasses?"

I take off my black glasses and face the woman, who peers into the two pale, discolored pupils that are the sign of the Dreamreader. I feel as if she is seeing into the core of my being.

"Good. You may put your glasses on."

She sits across the table from me.

"Today I am not prepared. Shall we begin tomorrow?" she says. "Is this room comfortable for you? I can unlock any of the other reading rooms if you wish."

"Here is fine," I tell her. "Will you be helping me?"

"Yes, it is my job to watch over the old dreams and to help the Dreamreader."

"Have I met you somewhere before?" She stares at me and searches her memory, but in the end shakes her head. "As you may know, in this Town, memory is unreliable and uncertain. There are things we can remember and things we cannot remember. You seem to be among the things I cannot. Please forgive me."

"Of course," I say. "It was not important."

"Perhaps we have met before. This is a small town."

"I arrived only a few days ago."

"How many days ago?" she asks, surprised. "Then you must be thinking of someone else. I have never been out of this Town. Might it have been someone who looks like me?"

"I suppose," I say. "Still, I have the impression that elsewhere we may all have lived totally other lives, and that somehow we have forgotten that time. Have you ever felt that way?"

"No," she says. "Perhaps it is because you are a Dreamreader. The Dreamreader thinks very differently from ordinary people."

I cannot believe her.

"Or do you know where this was?"

"I wish I could remember," I say. "There was a place, and you were there."

The Library has high ceilings, the room is quiet as the ocean floor. I look around vacantly, paperclips in hand. She remains seated.

"I have no idea why I am here either," I say.

I gaze at the ceiling. Particles of yellow light seem to swell and contract as they fall. Is it because of my scarred pupils that I can see extraordinary things? The upright clock against the wall metes out time without sound.

"I am here for a purpose, I am told."

"This is a very quiet town," she says, "if you came seeking quiet."

I do not know.

She slowly stands. "You have nothing to do here today. Your work starts tomorrow. Please go home to rest."

I look up at the ceiling again, then back at her. It is certain: her face bears a fatal connection to something in me. But it is too faint. I shut my eyes and search blindly. Silence falls over me like a fine dust.

"I will return tomorrow at six o'clock in the evening," I say.

"Good-bye," she says.

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