Review :: Kafka On The Shore

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.

• • •

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.

rating: ★☆☆☆☆
genre: magic realism, literary fiction
publisher: Naxos AudioBooks (I listened to the audiobook)
source: library
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…


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7 Responses to Review :: Kafka On The Shore

  1. I had a similar reaction to this book: it felt hollow, somehow. For me, good magical realism (no matter how surreal) has to have some kind of internal logic – but I couldn’t see / figure out the internal logic in this book, and all the happenings seemed way too random. And the characters didn’t feel human at all.

    It was my first (and so far, only) Murakami book, and it definitely didn’t encourage me to read more by him.

    • Nicole says:

      Aaaah yessss exactly that. But don’t let it put you off Murakami for good. I would suggest Norwegian Wood. It is *easily* my favourite Murakami and feels ‘sturdier’ as a story. Another one I enjoyed was A Wild Sheep Chase (but that one feels a little…quiet? not-quite-baked? in some ways for me). And, personally, I’m learning that his longer works seem to have a tendency of getting away from him and they’re just much less cohesive than his shorter works…imho.

  2. Pingback: Claire x Nikki Review October 2015 | Bitches With Books

  3. DoingDewey says:

    Murakami often borders on feeling pseudo-profound for me as well. I do love Murakami’s beautiful writing and how out there what he writes is. It’s different from anything else I’ve ever read and I love the novelty of the reading experience. However, I think I agree with you that gender and sex in his writing our problematic. 1Q84 had some super strange sex stuff going on and I don’t think I even talked about it my review, perhaps because it was so strange, I wasn’t really sure what to say about it. I think that’s a book I may need to re-read to feel I understand it.

    • Nicole says:

      Yes! All this! I think it’s actually easy to forget to mention the problematic sex and gender stuff sometimes with Murakami because, once you get used to it just always being there, it’s kind of a given with him…yknow? It sometimes feels like there’s simultaneously so much and so little to be said about it (hah), but it was all pretty central to the purpose of this whole story (which is why it’s so weird it’s not mentioned at all in the summary on Goodreads!). I think if I analysed it in detail, I could have a review of each book based solely on my critique of those parts haha

  4. moosha23 says:

    I’m very interested in reading the 1984 namesake one, but to be honest the only reason Kafka on the Shore sounds anywhere near appealing is because of “Kafka” in the title. 😐 The shallow life here…

    • Nicole says:

      Yeah, I like what I’ve read from Franz Kafka too, but this did not appeal. It’s worth noting that the references to other books/authors is generally a very tenuous link, so don’t expect that too be played up loads. The greatest literary link in this, for example, was the oedipus prophesy and I felt that was kind of a cheap excuse to get a 15 year old to have sex with an older woman and have a lot of pointless-feeling sexual content under the umbrella of “the mysterious prophesy” (that didn’t seem to have a point?). So If you have similar reading tastes to me…I (obviously) would suggest giving it a miss and using all that time to read two other books instead…
      That said, many other people seem to like it and maybe your reading tastes are much more like theirs! 😉

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