rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
Read August 7th. Via B., who has been suggesting I read some Murakami for uh some time now, and who wanted me to start with Wild Sheep Chase but figured this was reasonable.

This was a very odd book for me, because at least one and possibly two of my favorite anime series swiped elements from it wholesale, and in the more impressive case they admit it. The map and tone of one of the threads here (although, and this is major, not the metaphysics or character development or What Is Actually Going On) turned into Haibane Renmei (the director says so), and as the End of the World is a place/complicated spoilery concept, I cannot help thinking of Revolutionary Girl Utena. This made the tone of the book read strangely in ways I am sure were not intended by the author.

However, those of you who are not interested in anime will still find this a very good book; for those of you who are, it's an interesting resonance.

There are two threads going on here: one is set in the Hardboiled Wonderland, and one in the End of the World. In the first, the protagonist is a technician whose brain has been modified to enable him to do a specific kind of unbreakable data encoding, and he's facing confusion from things up to and including a mad scientist and his beautiful granddaughter; the people who want to steal the data; a kind of kappa he's never heard of previously who live underneath Tokyo and are vaguely Lovecraftian; and the people he works for, who aren't so nice either. This is a slightly cyberpunky but actually pretty realistic Tokyo with a tech level just a notch above ours, and a lot of pop culture references to things that do exist, which makes its mad plunge through the tropes of Golden Age SF and some horror extremely entertaining.

In the second, the protagonist is in a town surrounded by a Wall, where he has become the Dreamreader, who reads old dreams at the town library and cannot bear the light of day. The town is full of abandoned industry, quiet people, afternoon streets, and unicorns. The Wall watches. So do the Woods. He had to leave his shadow behind to come into the town, and he would like to find a way to get it back before it dies in prison.

The threads alternate chapter-by-chapter, and Murakami is good at finding places to break off and switch that do not make me want to throttle him. I mean he is not addicted to end-of-chapter cliffhangers, and both threads are sufficiently involving that you enjoy seeing the people again when you get there. This is unusual. Much of the time I hate multiple-thread books, because the author is always jerking you away from people you find interesting to people you do not. This one never jerks. It eases.

The question, of course, is how the threads are related, and whether they have the same protagonist, and so on. The possible answers to this are even more impressive, interesting, and complicated than I had been expecting. This is one of those books where the aesthetic resolution is the glorious profusion of metaphysical and other possibilities that could be implied by what happened, although I suspect people will also find it a satisfying enough ending on more usual terms.

In short, this is just very good, well-woven, compelling, likable, referential to other things without being obnoxious about it, beautifully translated by a translator who clearly had fun (acronym! so many bonus points for the acronym!). I look forward to more Murakami in future, and to seeing what elements of this are things that crop up in his work over and over and which are one-offs, as B. says he's one of those writers where things recur in slightly different forms and permutations throughout his entire body of work.


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March 2017

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