Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

November 7, 2013

kafka on the shore Plot summary (from the publisher): Kafka on the Shore is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom.

As their paths converge, and the reasons for that convergence become clear, Haruki Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder. Kafka on the Shore displays one of the world’s great storytellers at the peak of his powers.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • The beginning of this book was simply fascinating. I was immediately drawn into the story of the 15-year-old runaway boy, and was similarly interested in the confidential reports about the mysterious event in the mountains that sickened a group of schoolchildren (one of whom would turn out to be Nakata).
  • Nakata ended up being my favorite character. I loved his simplicity and his childlike outlook on life. I didn’t even mind that he could talk to cats, because that somehow fit right in with everything else that was going on the book. The parts of the story that focused on Nakata and Hoshino were the ones that grabbed my attention the most.

Disliked:

  • I seriously could have done without all the graphic sex scenes. I’m not a prude or anything, but come on. I draw the line at deliberate, intentional, consensual incest. How fucking nasty.
  • I hated that the two separate storylines didn’t intersect in a deeper way. I was fully expecting (and eagerly anticipating) Nakata and Kafka meeting each other and comparing notes, but that obviously didn’t happen. After suffering through so much dreck along the way, I hoped for some kind of bigger payoff than a brief Nakata/Ms. Saeki scene.
  • I got sick of the repetitiveness in this book. So many scenes, so many thoughts, so many lines of dialogue were repeated over and over again that it made me wonder what kind of editor would allow this stuff to stand. This book could have been 100 pages shorter (at the very least) without substantially altering the result.
  • To say the characters overstayed their welcome is a massive understatement. I was thoroughly bored with each and every one of them by the end and couldn’t wait to bid them adieu.
  • The pseudo-philosophical musings got on my last nerve. Everything is metaphor, everything is dark, everything is ephemeral, blah, blah, blah. Murakami sounds just like any other coffee shop hipster with these pronouncements.
  • What was the point of making Oshima a woman who identified as a man? There was absolutely no need (or payoff) for this detail, which was highlighted again and again. For a character that openly discussed Chekov’s gun, that was a bit of a head-scratcher.
  • I hated Kafka’s passiveness. At the beginning, he seemed to be a determined kid. He carefully went about planning how to run away months in advance of the actual event, and got himself well out of Tokyo without a hitch. But as soon as he landed at the library, he became a passive vessel that just sat back and waited for things to happen to him so he could react whine to Oshima about his situation.

Rating:

This was my fourth Murakami book, and will definitely be my last. I gave him a fair shake, but just cannot fathom why so many folks are fascinated by his writing. Kafka on the Shore, which is almost universally regarded by Murakami fans as one of his best, was agonizing to get through. The only reason I kept going was in hopes of getting some kind of resolution to Kafka Tamura’s story. Joke’s on me, I guess. I give this book 1 star out of 5.

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