Intruiged, I purchased Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore the week it won the World Fantasy Award in 2005. It's been sitting there on my shelf for the last couple of years, awaiting my attention. And recently, it kept moving up in the rotation. In the end, I caved in and finally decided to give it a shot.
Why wait for so long? Well, perusing reviews and related material, I soon learned that a vasy chunk of the author's readership never understood the novel. Back in 2002, Haruki Murakami's Japanese publisher set up a website on which readers were invited to submit questions regarding the meaning of the book. More than 8000 questions were received. And according to Murakami, the secret to understanding the novel lies in reading it multiple times. "Kafka on the Shore contains several riddles, but there aren't any solutions provided. Instead, several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It's hard to explain, but that's the kind of novel I set out to write," the author tried to explain. All in all, it didn't inspire a whole lot of confidence in me.
Still, my curiosity was piqued and I knew I'd read it, hopefully sooner than later. . .
Here's the blurb:
An unusual and mesmerising novel from the cult Japanese author.
Kafka on the Shore follows the fortunes of two remarkable characters. Kafka Tamura runs away from home at fifteen, under the shadow of his father's dark prophesy. The aging Nakata, tracker of lost cats, who never recovered from a bizarre childhood affliction, finds his pleasantly simplified life suddenly turned upside down. Their parallel odysseys are enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerising dramas. Cats converse with people; fish tumble from the sky; a ghostlike pimp deploys a Hegel-spouting girl of the night; a forest harbours soldiers apparently un-aged since WWII. There is a savage killing, but the identity of both victim and killer is a riddle.
Murakami's novel is at once a classic quest, but it is also a bold exploration of mythic and contemporary taboos, of patricide, of mother-love, of sister-love. Above all it is an entertainment of a very high order.
Haruki Murakami has an uncanny gift when it comes to set the mood. Kafka on the Shore grabs hold of you and sucks you into the narrative from the very beginning. As a magical realism work, this strange and whimsical of alternate universes and timelines is an enjoyable, yet uneven, ride. At times, the story is thoroughly brilliant and fills you with wonders. But the meandering and erratic plotlines sometimes become redundant and boring, and the pace is brought to a standstill.
The characterization was by far my favorite aspect of this book. Taking center stage, both Kafka Tamura and Satoru Nakata are the driving force behind the two linked storylines. Running away from a terrible oedipal prophecy, Kafka occasionally interacts with an alter ego known as Crow. Most men will recognize themselves in the boy and what he's going through and will relate to Kafka's quest. But although Kafka lies at the heart of the novel, it's his interaction with Oshima, Sakura, and Miss Saeki that makes his storyline so special. For his part, Nakata may be a lovable simpleton who can speak with cats. But his plotline doesn't truly take off until he teams up with Hoshino. Hence, though Kafka and Nakata are the principal focus of this work, it's the supporting cast which is responsible for most of the poignant and emotional moments found throughout its pages. There are a number of powerful sequences, chief among those a rape scene that many might find off-putting.
The rhythm is crooked from beginning to end. At times, the pace is fluid and Kafka on the Shore is a veritable page-turner. And yet, in some portion of the book the rhythm slows to a crawl and the plot goes absolutely nowhere, making me want to open my veins.
There is resolution of a sort at the end of the book, but one doesn't truly understand everything that took place. Which prevented me from fully enjoying the novel. Too bad, as this could have been a brilliant reading experience. It is good, mind you, but it could have been great.