The narrative alternates with each chapter, and as we progress through the novel, we see the connection bewteen the two stories as alternating worlds belonging to the same narrator. The first storyline (arguably – according to characters in this world) is the “real” world, although one that is vastly different to our own. The narrator (no names are given at all) is a Calcutec, a man who has been trained through surgery and extensive mind work to use his subconscious to cypher and shuffle information. He is hired by a strange scientist and is caught up in the the race to steal the scientist’s data. The scientist gifts him a skull which is later revealed to be a unicorn skull, and seems to have some great value for those pursuing him.
The even numbered chapters deal with a strange little village the narrator has just entered. To do so, he has been separated from his shadow, thus giving him a kind of amnesia/mindlessness displayed by the other characters in this world. He is given the job of ‘dreamreader’ and sent to the library to read skulls. There, he falls for the librarian, a young woman who is unable to love him back because of her own mindlessness. This leads the man to ponder the nature of the mind, and what the seemingly serene village is. This is combined with occasional pleas from his shadow to help him escape the and to rejoin with him.
As the story continues, the narrator is drawn more and more strongly into the second world (the mindless village), apparently a construct of his own subconscious to allow him to survive the shuffling process that has killed so many of his contemporaries. In hs typical understated style, Murakami creates realistically odd worlds that remain a beautiful mystery even at the end of the novel. Not his best, but definitely worth a look.