Split between two realities, Haruki Murakami’s “Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World” is a marvel of a novel. Murakami’s familiar, no-frills first person voice, (which might strike some as plain) here belongs to two men in very different lands, two men who may be in fact converging toward each other. That’s not a spoiler: duality is an immediate theme.
The “Hard Boiled Wonderland” chapters are reminiscent of cyberpunk and Philip K. Dick and Raymond Chandler. The Narrator, who works completing a computational task at a Laboratory, gets caught in a nebulous turf war between Calcutecs (who work for “The System”) and Semiotecs (who work for “The Factory”). Engineer gangsters with barely explained motivations rough him up over an even less-explained unicorn horn. Creatures called INKLings feed on rotten corpses on the sewers.
The “End of the World” chapters are reminiscent of Kafka, old kaidan stories, and fairy tales. The Narrator arrives to a mysterious Town where his Shadow is severed from him, (a touch that would please J. M. Barrie or Catherynne M.Valente.) There, he “Dreamreads” unicorn horns, while A Gatekeeper, a Colonel, a Caretaker and a Librarian cryptically dispense wisdom about the strict, arbitrary rules of this reality.
Fantasy and sci-fi, the detective story and the surreal tale, the horror adventure and the slice of life, the modern and the primal; Murakami does not segregate genres. He would perfect his style in later, more ambitious novels, but this is a pleasant, eccentric tale. When I say that he’s my favorite Japanese writer, (Kobo Abe comes second), I admit that might be a question of my ignorance of Japanese literature, and a side effect of his facility with Western references. Still, I have read and re-read a lot of his work over the years, and it is always with the pleasure of returning to an old friend, who’ll crack open some imported brews and chat with you about Dylan and the Beatles, W. Somerset Maugham and Dostoevsky, giant talking ninja frogs and the nature of dreams.
And he has a new book out! Yay!