Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami)

This was my first book from Haruki Murakami and though I was aware of the writer for some time I knew from what I’d read about him that his book were ones you had to work your way up to. His novels, from what I’d read, were not things to be lumped in with those we see in many of the best-of lists we see in literary publications and high brow newspapers.

I personally think that this, I have to stress, is both true and a complement to the writer.

I’ve read a lot recommended from high brow publications, I’ve read a lot of award winners, and very few of them were books that ever made me want to read another from the author in question. I’ve almost come to believe that a Booker prize, for instance, was a participation trophy rather than anything I should take seriously.

Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore should never win any of these awards, not should it ever be on any lists of recommended novels.

It has and it often is; but I think you get my point. Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore deserves better than to be lumped in with the high gloss trash that often inhabits these lists and ceremonies.

There is something transcendant about Murakami’s work, something disturbing that niggles at the edges of the brain while symultaneously making the lips curl with laughter. This was the first thing that struck me about the work, in spite of its complexity and enigmatic nature, was how easy it was to read; how quickly the pages flew past and how much raw information sat in each and every line.

I know that telling you what the story is about is ultimately self-defeating, but I guess I’ll have to at least try to give you something here.

It begins with a young boy who calls himself Kafka and a journey he takes when he runs away from home. Kafka’s father, a renowned sculptor, has been murdered – initially we don’t known by whom – and at some point we know the police will be on Kafka’s trail.

Kafka travels across Japan and finds himself at a small private library where he begins to spend his days. The world around him begins to shrink, and then expand in surprising ways until it warps enough to become alien, wonderous and frightening.

Meanwhile in a tale told in alternating chapters we follow an old man with an affinity for cats who goes on his own quest and finally the two stories begin to entwine together like vines until you can’t tell them apart.

Along the way we have talking cats and UFO’s, sinister governent projects and comatose patients. We also have ghosts and secret cities; and finally a strange fantastical rock that seems to tie it all together.

It’s weird, yeah, and some might dismiss it as “just weird” but under the surface is a interconnected tapestry which makes it all very interesting. Who and what all the characters are is always in question, theres a common theme of disconnection that runs throughout the book where characters will change form, both physically and in spirit, or we will see a character from different points in thier lives…

Did I mention time travel? ‘Cause theres a bit of that going on as well…

So… Everything seems malleable and infinitely changing, and I’m certain that the next time I read the novel it won’t be the same book I read the first time.

Alongside the constant change are other recurring themes, those of redemption, fate and how these two things can merge to make characters chase things both real and imagined.

In spite of all its fantasy and surreal imagery theres something that struck me as very true floating amoungst all the lunacy. It struck a chord in me because its something I’ve been exploring myself in some of my own work; though admittedly I’ve not been doing it anywhere near as well.

To me Kafka on the Shore argues that we are all changing, constantly and that the person we were yesterday was not the same person that woke up to this morning. I think it also argues, on some level at least, that our sins of the past may no longer belong to us and that it may not be right for the new us to hold on to such guilts.

As for meaning I think the book will mean something different to whomever reads it. There’ll be similarities to what you might think its about and what I might, many similarities perhaps but as each thread of this tapestry connects to the next we would undoubtably see different connections and different results from the same raw material.

Kafka on the Shore is like a thousand piece jigsaw that can be completed in multiple, perhaps infinite, ways; each way revealing a new journey that uses familiar themes and crossroads without being the same.

In my view Haruki Murakami is incredibly lucky writer to manage this take, or – and this i far more likely – a truly gifted one. Once I’ve recovered and built up a little strength I’ll embark on one of his other journeys wrapped in paper; and to be honest I’m not sure if I’m hoping that the next one’ll be more involving or less.

I’m not entirely sure my mind can handle another Kafka on the Shore any time soon.

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