Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami’s most recent novel, wasn’t quite the masterpiece that its predecessor, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, was, but it’s still in the upper echelon of contemporary novels I’ve read.
Murakami’s narrative is split into two, although we know from the start that they will converge near the book’s conclusion. The first narrative, told in the first person, is the story of a fifteen-year-old boy who runs away from home for reasons that are never entirely clear and adopts the pseudonym of Kafka Tamura. Kafka flees to the city of Takamatsu, on the island of Shikoku, largely because there’s a library there to which he is inexplicably drawn. The second narrative, told in the third person, follows a sixty-year-old simpleton named Nakata who can talk to cats and who is either a mystic or a pawn of mystical forces. Kafka is, to some degree, on a quest to find the mother who abandoned him and his father when he was four years old. Nakata ends up committing a crime he doesn’t understand that may have involved an out-of-body experience â€¦ and this just skims the surface of the events in the book.
Like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore is a mind-bender with plenty of magical realism and dreamlike passages. And like its predecessor, it has one scene of very graphic violence (this time against animals, not that that’s much easier to tolerate) and lots of slightly awkward descriptions of sex, although confused sexuality is a major theme in the novel, perhaps as a subset of the larger theme of confused identity. Murakami also raises questions about independence and fate, but like any skilled writer, offers little in the way of set answers other than a few platitudes in the book’s closing pages.
What I particularly enjoy about Murakami’s writing is the way he makes coincidence and fate a part of the novel without allowing the characters to ignore it. They’re either amazed by the coincidences, or are pondering whether it’s fate or Fate at work. Even the magical realism elements get mixed reactions, with some characters unfazed but a few always there to offer some double-u-tee-eff thoughts on the matter.
Next up: We’ve had Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist for some time, and I’ve even brought it on a few trips, but never got around to actually reading it.