Saturday, April 9, 2011

The TBR Reading Challenge: Hard-boiled Wonderland and The End of the World

I haven't forgotten my To Be Read challenge commitment! In fact, I actually finished my latest challenge books several weeks ago: I've just been chewing on what to say about Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

I first came across this book several years ago, during a visit to a friend's place. Having a few quiet moments to myself, I picked up this book and started in on the first chapter. Much to my delight and chagrin, I was hooked, but had to leave the book behind when I left that day. It's been on my mental "to read" list ever since, and so was a natural inclusion when I was looking for books for this reading challenge.

The book is a mix of many genres: science fiction, fantasy, Noir mystery, and I guess what you might call a philosophical novel. The opening chapter has the instant hook of a great Noir novel: a character (himself a mystery to the reader at this point), in a mysterious, confusing, and vaguely menacing situation that you can't help but wonder how it will resolve itself.

The novel is told in alternating chapters—two intertwined novels you could even say—one half Hardboiled Wonderland, the other The End of the World. It is the sort of book where I wonder about how much to say for fear of giving something away, but also sort of feel like it's so nuanced a book that the idea of "giving something away" doesn't really apply. It's the sort of book I love, where the jacket blurb gives you a description without telling you much at all:

"In this hyperkinetic and relentlessly inventive novel, Japans' most popular (and controversial) fiction writer hurtles into the consciousness of the West. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World draws readers into a narrative particle accelerator in which a split-brained data processor, a deranged scientist, his shockingly undemure granddaughter, Lauren Bacall, Bob Dylan, and various thugs, librarians, and subterranean monsters collide to dazzling effect. What emerges is simultaneously cooler than zero and unaffectedly affecting, a hilariously funny and deeply serious meditation on the nature and uses of the mind."

Having read a few Murakami titles now, I can very much see his style in this novel. But what is also of interest is the way he folds the American Noir style into this book. Certainly this book is for fans of Murakami, but also for fans of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler (who don't mind some futurist computer experiments and a few unicorns thrown in). I found this book compelling (although admittedly sometimes a bit confusing) and well worth the wait to have finally read to it.

If Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World sounds like your kind of thing, you might also want to investigate these other acclaimed titles that mix the worlds of Noir Mystery and Science Fiction or Fantasy:

The City and the City
by China Miéville

The Yiddish Policemen's Union
by Michael Chabon

Gun, With Occasional Music
by Johathan Lethem

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