The book, as is clear from the title, is two seemingly unconnected stories, one called "Hardboiled Wonderland," in odd numbered chapters, is set somewhere in present day Japan. The other, "End of the World," is about an unnamed place, described by a map on the first few pages of the book. It’s unrecognizable and rather indefinable until much later in the book when the stories start coming together.
The narrator in "Hardboiled" is a “Calcutec,” a technical person whose brain has been altered to function as a very efficient data processor engaged in the encryption of data. The narrator in "End" is a man who is slowly losing his memory, whose shadow, signifying everything he holds dear as his identity, has been forcibly separated from him and is dying a slow death.
Reading a Murakami novel often brings to mind those dancers of yore, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, where they danced across the stage as if their feet could see, dancing over furniture, curbs, staircases, taking a step that landed them on the back of a chair and getting back down on the ground with the next step as the chair slowly tumbled backwards along with them. They made it all seem effortless, as though they were one with the space in which they dwelled.
The storylines in Haruki Murakami’s books, the plotlines bizarre and unreal as they may be, flow with similar ease and effortlessness; the worlds he creates are rendered instantly believable. His protagonists are almost always emotionally detached and concerned with the immediacy of the moment, never worrying about the “grand design” and never engaged in elaborate planning.
This attitude was most succinctly portrayed in a memorable passage from The Wind Up Bird Chronicles:
You go up when you’re supposed to go up and down when you’re supposed to go down. When you’re supposed to go up, find the highest tower and climb to the top. When you’re supposed to go down, find the deepest well and go down to the bottom. When there’s no flow stay still.
Nothing defines living in the moment as beautifully as the above passage. How often do we lose sleep and gain gray hairs while dreading a future prospect; replaying scenarios in our mind, only to find that when we are in that dreaded moment there is only one course, only one thing we can do, as the mind swiftly rejects all unviable options, rendering all the moments of dread that we endured, for naught. This attitude is demonstrated well in "Hardboiled" when our “Calcutec” sits through the carnage at his apartment as things are smashed to smithereens all around him and even through the infliction of personal injury. It appears to be just a moment to be endured in the classic Murakami style.