Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End Of the World, by Haruki Murakami, is not a book easily pigeonholed into a genre, although “magical-realism sci-fi noir” kinda fits. It could also be accurately described as a head trip (for more reasons than one).
Hard-Boiled Wonderland alternates storylines chapter-by-chapter. One story takes place in a fenced-in community known as The End Of The World, where unicorns roam and all newcomers are severed from their shadows upon entry. The members of this town share a mindlessness that relates to the loss of their shadow. The amnesiac narrator tries to cope with his confusion and decipher his surrounding, and The End Of The World slowly surrenders its secrets as the book unfolds.
The other is the story in narrated by a Calcutec, a man programmed to interpret and synthesize information in a modified compartment in his unconscious mind. The nameless narrator is hired by Grandfather, a genius scientist with data-scrambling needs for his work interpreting bones. In joining this assignment, the narrator meets his teenage granddaughter, who is constantly referred to as ‘the chubby girl.’ She is probably my favorite character – she wears only pink, knows how to do everything from manipulating the stock market to spelunking, and makes a habit of sexually propositioning the narrator every few chapters.
Don’t take the namelessness of the characters as a sign of blandness: oh no. This is Murakami, and he bestows unforgettable character traits on each of them. The narrator, a poshly cosmopolitan loner, observes the strangeness of the events unfolding around him with wry shrewdness, but willingly goes farther and farther down the rabbit hole. Myriad unexpected elements, such as monstrous water-creatures known as INKlings, a beautiful librarian with an incommensurate appetite, and a meditation on Bob Dylan add spice and humor to the story.
Murakami is one of those authors who is the absolute best at what he does. This is partially because no one could hope to replicate his curious form of storytelling, but mostly because his mind works differently than most people’s. He’s a sort of writing monk, an ascetic of the written words and the mind.
When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.
-Haruki Murakami (source)
Murakami’s absorption in and fascination with the functions of the human mind translates into some insanely complicated neurology-themed subplots in Hard-Boiled Wonderland. Readers are tossed into unrecognizable worlds and cultures at the beginning of the book, and must maneuver some elaborate technical descriptions and do some guesswork in order to find their way. However, it’s a gratifying complexity, the kind that leads to really electrifying “Aha!” moments as the plot unfolds.
I picked up Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World because I had read Murakami’s short stories and wanted to dip my toes into his longer work before starting on the behemoth that is 1Q84. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys science fiction, mind-bending plots, the Matrix, and mythical creatures. It’s an intelligent and compelling read.