Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

This is my first reading of a Murakami book and I’ve since learned there are better ones to start with. He’s an author I’ve been meaning to get to for a while and I’m glad I did, even if his ambiguous dreamlike prose didn’t do it for me.

The story follows two distinct narrative strands which eventually braid together. The first follows Kafka Tamura (a made up name of course; we never discover his real identity), a 15 year old boy who is running away from home to escape his sculptor father, a man who kills cats in order to make a flute from their souls. Kafka himself never acknowledges this; in fact, he doesn’t talk much about his family life besides to mention a curse his father has placed on him, very similar to the Oedipus complex. Kafka doesn’t know his mother, who left when he was little, taking his sister with her, and it seems he wants to find her/them.

The second strand follows Nakata, who we learn from an X-File recording was part of a freak accident when he was a child and as a result can neither read or write and is “not too bright” as he frequently refers to himself, but has the ability to talk to cats.

Kafka on the Shore is a slow burner but the two voices/stories of the main characters are such that they suck you in and make the book a real page turner. However there are a lot of things about the story which have left me unsatisfied. Often when I read a story that doesn’t have a clear cut ending or contains many mysterious parts, I enjoy it all the more. It can intriguing when something is left unsaid; an understanding between reader and writer and the chance to think over what you’ve read and draw your own conclusions.

Murakami doesn’t quite follow through on this. His ambiguity is too vague, with dreamlike sequences that don’t seem to make sense in the greater story. There is an underlying plot, with a straightforward beginning, middle and end but scattered throughout are strange additions, like a Christmas tree with too many decorations. Do these parts have anything to do with the main story or characters? It doesn’t seem so, at least not enough that warrants an explanation.

I’m disappointed I didn’t enjoy this book more but I certainly wouldn’t rule out anyone else reading it. Murakami has quite a matter of fact style of writing, one that works well in juxtaposition to his dreamy subject matter. I can’t say if the translation adds or takes anything away, and I hope it doesn’t.

What I like about Haruki Murakami is his bravery and the fact that he has written a story purely because it was one he wanted to tell. There’s no sense of him trying to compromise or please anyone, which is why his readers tend to be so divided. He is a unique story teller and I am pleased I read this book (even if I didn’t get as much out of it as I hoped). When I think of all the authors who are writing to a template, where you can guess each beat of the story before it happens, and who don’t try to make interesting believable characters, I would much rather read someone who tries something different and stays true to themselves.

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