Reviewer: Ange from Tall, Short & Tiny
Haruki Murakami is a dear friend’s favourite author, but until reading ‘Kafka on the Shore’, I’d had no experience of him whatsoever. Now, I am desperately awaiting a delivery from The Book Depository of another four of his books; needless to say, I am converted fan. I can’t recall another author I’ve read who can write a novel with such a combination of whimsical, fantastical, ethereal, spiritual, metaphysical words.
In saying this, I am not claiming to fully understand this novel – not by a long shot – but I certainly enjoyed it, and it got some rusty cogs turning in my brain. I had to think and process everything twice; there were long-dormant neurons firing up in my brain and I felt like I was back in a philosophy lecture at university.
There are two parallel stories in ‘Kafka’, with chapters alternating between the two. After each story is established, there is a hint that they will come together, and towards the end, the lines of each are running so closely together that I was excitedly turning pages to find out if they met.
We never find out the real name of 15-year-old Kafka Tamura, the main character in the odd chapters. He has run away from home, desperate to escape a curse that his father has deemed he will fulfill. He has an alter-ego, the Boy called Crow, who appears during times of anxiety and stress to advise and cajole. Kafka is very wise and intelligent, more than his 15 years would suggest. His ability to comprehend intensely metaphysical, improbable situations adds to the whimsy; his uncharacteristic traits don’t seem too out of place in Murakami’s world. I didn’t exactly like him as a character, but I also didn’t hate him. He was, in that respect, a good main character, in that he carried the story well without the interference of too much emotion.
Paralleling the story of Kafka is the story of Nakata, an old man who has the ability to talk to cats. As a boy, he was unconscious for three weeks, and upon waking, had no memories and had lost his ability to read and write. Throughout the story, he is often heard saying, “Nakata isn’t very bright”, or “I’m stupid, you see”, yet as the story unfolds it becomes clear that his lack of intelligence makes him the perfect vehicle for what transpires, and that his intelligence lies along another path. Nakata was hugely likeable; he was simple, but polite, funny and honest.
The novel features fish that fall from the sky, and a spectral pimp dressed as Colonel Sanders. There is a flute made from the souls of cats, and un-aged WWI soldiers living in a forest. There’s a transgender haemophiliac, a prostitute spouting philosophy, and a woman living in the past with the ability to travel through space and time. Many times, I had to re-read passages, to put the book down in order to digest what I had just read. It filled my head, it consumed me, and it confused me…but I loved it.
There are many questions left unanswered at the end of the story. I had many a theory, yet by the end, nothing was certain. Murakami is reported to have said that his novels are meant to be read again and again, and that it is up to the reader to formulate their own thoughts and conclusions. I imagine that every reader could theorise something different; book group discussions of this work would be lengthy, heated and perhaps polarising.
I can honestly say I’m a convert to Murakami’s work. I enjoyed being challenged as I read, and I loved being left to draw my own conclusions; I loved the poetic way the story was written, combined with humour, fantasy, spirituality and surrealism. ‘Kafka on the Shore’ gets a big 5/5 from me.