A review of Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore
“In Kafka on the Shore, Murakami continues with his remarkable combination of profound insight into humankind with a totally credible touch of the fantastical – a unique tour de force.
The teenager Kafka Tamura goes on the run and holes up in a strange library in a small country town. Concurrently, Nakata, a finder of lost cats, goes on a puzzling odyssey across Japan. Only gradually do we find how these stories interweave..”
And it should really also be mentioned that central to the plot is an oedipus (incest) theme.
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So, as you know, I read a few asian books recently (though not nearly as many as I’d intended to!). This was one of the ones I was less impressed with…
This story felt very hollow to me and it doesn’t live up to some of Murakami’s other works in my opinion. Not much held the story together and I thought it felt a little…cheap and pseudo-profound. It’s written as a split narrative and I didn’t feel the two stories quite came together well enough to justify telling them both.
I was far most interested in Nakata’s story than Kafka’s which is interesting because I found myself in a similar position when reading Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World where I much preferred the stranger, more mysterious story which happened to have more overt fantasy/magic realism elements and far less sexual content (much of which doesn’t make any sense except “because a subtle maybe-magic wills it so”). Personally, I don’t find Murakami deals with sex well. That’s not at all through any fault of his writing so much as his relationships involving women are often…just slightly annoying to me.*
*It’s worth noting that this is possibly largely due to cultural differences. However, I feel a conflict in justifying it by accepting it in its context versus looking at it in light of Japanese women I know personally or who I know about who have to deal with this attitude and who are not keen on it. At some points the sexual content just feels superfluous, especially since it’s usually at these points where we’re not offered much in the way of explanations other than “it had to be so…magic? yeah, let’s go with that.” A lot of westerners don’t seem to have (or acknowledge any similar conflict leading me to believe they’re ignoring it or don’t see a problem with it just because Murakami’s writing is so lovely, but I don’t feel I can overlook that. For better or for worse, the conflict is part of the reading experience for me.
I think it’s pretty clear I’m not sold on Murakami’s longer works in general. I’ll have to audiobook these if I do read more in future. So I’m very, very unlikely to ever read 18Q4… (Unless maybe my library gets the audiobook and I’ve read all the other audiobooks on my library wish list.) But the reading (or in this case listening) experience is usually entertaining in some way or other because he writes very well.
genre: magic realism, literary fiction
publisher: Naxos AudioBooks (I listened to the audiobook)
date read: 28 September 2015
recommend for: those who enjoyed Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
pros: Murakami’s writing is fluid and very ‘readable’, great audio performance
cons: everything else…