Haruki Murakami can be difficult to pigeonhole at the best of times but nothing can quite prepare the uninitiated for the ethereal themes that bubble beneath the surface of “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.”
Murakami’s fourth novel, published in 1985, alternates between parallel universes. Occupying the odd-numbered chapters of the book, “Hard-Boiled Wonderland” is a science fiction tale in which the narrator is essentially a human data processor. He eventually learns he only has 1½ days to exist before he leaves the world he knows for a place he’s invented in his subconscious mind. Still with me? Unfortunately, the insanity doesn’t stop there. “The End of the World,” meanwhile, tells the story of a newcomer who is seeking acceptance in an isolated town that is surrounded by a fortified wall. The newcomer’s shadow has been cut off and he devises a plan to rescue the banished silhouette and escape. Those unfamiliar with Murakami’s more surreal works may find the fantasy elements here a little hard to digest, but the dreamlike narrative is enough to keep most readers interested.