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Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World - Haruki Murakami, Alfred Birnbaum Eh? What the hell was that?

My first thought upon finishing this, my first Murakami book. A few hours later it hit me like a delayed reaction that I just read something very cool. In retrospect Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is no weirder than something like PKD’s [b:Ubik|22590|Ubik|Philip K. Dick|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327995569s/22590.jpg|62929] or China Miéville's [b:The City and the City|4703581|The City and the City|China Miéville|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320475957s/4703581.jpg|4767909] but it does have its own brand of weirdness and whimsy. The plot and narrative style of this book is like a combination of PKD’s reality bending shenanigan, Neil Gaiman’s whimsical characters and Murakami’s unique brand of whatever it is he is doing. Here is an example:
"Perhaps some fluctuation in the gravitational field had suddenly inundated the world with paperclips. Perhaps it was mere coincidence. I couldn’t shake the feeling that things weren’t normal. Was I being staked out by paperclips? They were everywhere I went, always just a glance away."
I have to say I was hooked from the beginning as the weirdness hit the ground running with a ride in an elevator with no buttons, floor indicator or discernable motion. Then we meet a fat girl in pink whose voice has somehow been muted like a TV set.

The book is structured as a dual narrative, one strand is set in Tokyo, probably in the 80s though the year is not mentioned, the other appears to be set in some kind of parallel fantasy world in a walled up town with unicorns. The chapters alternate between these two settings. Initially the “Tokyo” plot seems to concern information war, encryption and cyberpunkish neurological enhancement. Soon the story slowly morphs into a race to save the world then transform again to something very odd which I will not spoil for you. The more fantastical “walled Town” narrative has a Neil Gaiman-ish feel to it, a little whimsical and a little sad. How the two story lines eventually come together had me reaching for the aspirin.

The main characters are all well developed and interesting if somewhat eccentric. For some reason not a single character is named in this book, but they are all referred to by their job or physical attribute. The tone of the two narrative strands is very different. The Tokyo part is colloquial in tone, often ironic and sometime hilarious, similar to the prose of noir detective novel (but funnier) with a little Holden Caulfield thrown in. Special mention must be made for a scene involving a subway attendant that seems like something out of Monty Python. Here is an eccentric little sentence:
"You can tell a lot about a person’s character from his choice of sofa. Sofas constitute a realm inviolate unto themselves."
In contrast the “walled Town” chapters are a little melancholy, more pensive and surreal. Both narratives are fascinating though I have a slight preference for the Tokyo part because it made me laugh. The writing style, as far as I can tell from the excellent translation, is accessible yet unusual and sometime lyrical.

It is a very hard book to review and describe due to its oddness, I almost feel like I dreamed the book rather than read it. I suspect the less you know about it in advance the better. I am still not sure what to make of the ending, it is still whirling around in my head even as I write. I did not see that coming! Haruki Murakami is clearly a very unusual yet readable author, I wonder what he has in store for me next.