Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

“If I ever get reincarnated, it occurred to me, let me make certain I don’t come back as a paperclip.”
“Death leaves cans of shaving cream half-used.”
(Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami)

Reading fiction is a misnomer. You don’t read books, you see them in your mind’s eye; words just happen to be the vehicle that gets you to that inner visual. Mirukami takes advantage of this fact by playing with light and dark, blinding his readers with flashes of brightness and hours of pitch black. He returns again and again to the eyes, bogging down the middle of the book with a subterranean adventure, leaving us suspended in hope and brightness at the end. He forces us to develop our other reading senses in the absence of our reading sight – we find ourselves not seeing this book so much as smelling, feeling, hearing it.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland is an unexpected humor, one that makes you laugh simply because it is so itself. With a lot of genre fiction, it seems like anyone could have written the book – each instance is interchangeable with another. If you took the cover off a Joe Abercrombie and put it on a Flanagan, only the most dedicated fan would notice. Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, however, from its title to its unnamed characters, is a book that no one else in this world, or any other, could have written.

Recommended Action: Buy – Borrow Now– Borrow Sometime – Avoid
Length: 416
Ending: not expected
Further Reading: Either you’ll want to read all of Murakami, or never read him again. Though I loved this book, I still can’t decide which one I’ll do. I don’t think I could bear it if his other works were similar to this one; in my mind, everything he writes is 100% unique.


The City and The City

“An elderly woman was walking slowly away from me in a shambling sway.  She turned her head and looked at me.  I was struck by her motion, and I met her eyes.  I wondered if she wanted to tell me something.  In a glance I took in her clothes, her way of walking, of holding herself, and looking. With a hard start, I realized that she was not on GunterStráz at all, and that I should not have seen her.” (The City and The City Miéville)

The City and the City coverLet’s get a few details out of the way. The City and the City is a brilliant piece of noir crime fiction set in two cities, Ul Qoma and Besźel, whose boarders are crosshatched and intertwined in the same physical space. Since the two cities are actually in their own countries, residents of Ul Quoma cannot legally see, hear, or smell a resident of Besźel, even if they are walking side by side, or sleeping in adjacent apartments, unless they legally enter into the other city though a single boarder checkpoint. Though this set-up may boggle the mind in a similar way that science fiction can, Meiville never actually steps into that genre. Instead, The City and The City is a classic murder mystery, solved by the grounded and insightful Inspector Borlú, with a setting so clearly and viscerally invoked that the reader will remember the cities as if they once lived there.

Miéville transforms his strange disconnected cities into a believable setting by daring to delve into the gritty, cumbersome details of world building over and over again. Most writers, of any genre, tend to simply suggest a setting, alluding to a feudal background or technofuture with a few sentences, but Miéville brings every thought back to the cities’ delineations and complexities. Each of Borlu’s conversations and meanderings familiarizes the reader with the idea of unseeing and unhearing illegal sights and sounds present in an adjacent foreign country, so that the intellectual feat of imagining of two superimposed city-states becomes as easy and interesting as walking down your own street. Miéville almost renders the impossible banal through the constant first-person delineation of streets and countries, but avoids this atrocity by twisting the plot in on itself so that he breaks his own carefully defined rules, forcing the reader to re-see and re-hear all that they’d just become comfortable un-noticing.

Recommended Action: Buy BorrowTBRAvoid

Length: 500 pgs

Ending: Mystery solved

Further Reading: There is nothing else remotely as brilliant or ingenious as The City and The City. Personally, I’m going to have to make time to read everything else China Miéville has ever written, because something this careful and precise is no accident – I will trust him with any genre.