Another Murakami, another weird and wonderful book. I will start by saying that I still prefer the first Murakami that I read, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but this one was of course in no way bad.
Hard-Boiled Wonderland at the End of the World follows two seemingly separate story lines. In one, we have a man who is a split-brained data processor. He goes into an unconscious-like state in which he processes data for living. He begins to work for a strange professor and his granddaughter, but that is when his life is suddenly turned upside down. In the other plot line, we follow a man in a strange town called the Town. In the Town, there is a giant wall, strange beasts, and dreams that need reading, but no one in the Town has a shadow. Their shadows are sentient, but in most cases, their shadows have disappeared.
Confused yet? Yeah, me too. To be honest, I read to the halfway point of the novel and began to wonder when or if the two plot lines would come together. They seemed so vastly different from one another that I could not imagine how they were related. But, this is a Murakami, so I had faith that it would all make at least a little sense by the end. I wasn’t disappointed. The book is very surreal, so if this is your first foray into surrealism or Haruki Murakami, I’m not sure I would recommend starting here. However, if you can stay confused and simultaneously engaged, this is a fun adventure story with some deep, psychological considerations.
As for the characters, I find them secondary to the plot and overarching metaphor of the novel itself. Still, I liked the professor and his granddaughter. They are both weird, wonderful characters with interesting motivations and personality quirks. Our main characters seem like many male Murakami protagonists in that they are rather faceless and average. The characters in the Town are a bit flat as well, but it seems intentional since they have a part of them missing.
I gave Hard-Boiled Wonderland at the End of the World around 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4/5 on Goodreads. An experienced surrealism/Murakami fan will enjoy it, but it may not be for new readers of the genre/author.