Date started: July 15th
Date finished: July 21st
What a weird book.
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is technically a book of two stories. The first (Hard-Boiled Wonderland) is about a man who lives in Tokyo. He works for a group called the Calcutecs, as kind of an information processor. He processes and jumbles up numbers with his subconscious. But a data shuffling job for an old man goes awry as he is thrust right in the path of the Semiotecs, information thieves and sworn enemies of the Calcutecs.
The second story (The End of the World) is about a man who arrives in a town called the End of the World. It’s surrounded by a perfect wall that he is warned to stay away from, and there is a herd of unicorns that graze on the town’s edge. Upon arrival, the man is separated from his shadow by the Gatekeeper, since his shadow can’t live in the town with him. The place seems idyllic, but there’s obviously more than meets the eye.
The two stories are told in alternating chapters. The odd chapters are the Hard-Boiled Wonderland portion, and the even chapters make up the End of the World. It probably goes without saying that the two stories do link up by the end of the book, though not in the way I expected. Murakami laid a few red herrings along the way, and I ended up being pleasantly surprised by the actual outcome of both stories.
You might notice that in my brief description of the plot, I neglected to mention any character names. Well, this is because there are none. Both stories are written in first person, and any other characters are referred to only as signifiers such as Old Man, Librarian, Chubby Girl etc. I’m not certain what Murakami was attempting with this idea. In practice, I found it kept a barrier between myself and the characters. Both narrators seem quite distant in terms of their relationships, so perhaps this was the intent.
Otherwise, I found the book to be written wonderfully. The translation by Alfred Birnbaum sounds natural, and I often forgot I was reading a book that wasn’t originally written in English. The two different stories distinguish themselves by tense. Hard-Boiled Wonderland is written in past tense, while the End of the World is in present tense. At the start of the book I preferred the Hard-Boiled Wonderland segments, but End of the World grew on me by the end, and I found myself looking forward to both.
Honestly, this is a difficult book to review properly. It’s weird enough that I’m not sure who to recommend it to, but I did very much enjoy it. If you like your fantasy a little more weird than what’s currently on offer, it should appeal to you. All I can say is the surreal story and dream like prose grabbed me and refused to let go. This is the first Murakami I’ve read, but I can say for certain it won’t be the last.
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