Tuesday, 5 July 2011

"Kafka on the Shore" by Haruki Murakami

********* (That's nine stars out of ten).

I’m going to start this blog of mine with a review of a book that I simply and utterly loved. It’s called Kafka on the Shore by an author called Haruki Murakami. You might have heard of him before; he’s pretty much the best thing to come out of Japan since Godzilla and before Pokemon. (1) I stumbled upon him quite by accident, about a year ago, when I decided to read arguably his most famous work “Norwegian Wood”. I’m a massive Beatles fan, and despite the fact I usually only read books by people I’ve heard of (2), I thought I’d give it a bash. It was brilliant. And then I read Kafka on the Shore. It was amazing. And then I made some macaroni cheese for dinner. It was a bit too cheesy but, in general, was also very good.

If you like......Twin Peaks, Lost, Mulholland Drive, Labyrinths (Luis Borges), 100 years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), The Third Policeman, At Swim Two Birds (Flann O’ Brien).......you might like this, but you know, don’t take my word for it.

Things You Should Know About “Kafka on the Shore” (in no particular order):

5. The Surrealism:
And hence, the completely absorbing nature of the story itself. It shifts back and forth between two protagonists, one: a teenage boy (Kafka) running away from his home and his father to find himself. Yeah, we’ve heard it all before right? Only he’s actually running from an Oedipal prophecy which leads him to become bessies with a gay pre-op transsexual, oh, and he also falls in love with the ghost of a woman who isn’t actually dead yet. The other protagonist is an elderly man who encountered a UFO as a child which left him with the ability to talk to cats and summon fish from the sky, which then leads him on a quest to……well, it’s difficult to say, which leads me onto my next point.

4. The Mysteries:
At the beginning of this post, I compared Kafka on the Shore to Lost, and whilst they are similar in many ways-the surrealism, the bending of time and space, the shifting narratives, the flashbacks-they differ in the respect that an avid Lost fan had to sit through six series to find even half the answers to the questions the show had built up over it’s 8 years. It wont take you 8 years to read Kafka on the Shore (unless you are an incredibly slow reader, in which case I’d stop reading this immediately as it’s probably taken you several weeks to get this far) which is good, as the mysteries can all be solved with a bit of deep and abstract thought. Don’t expect any concrete or definite conclusions within the text, however; the not-knowing, the feeling that the answers are just out of reach, is part of the book’s appeal and everything depends on your own interpretation.

3. A bespoke genre:
In case I haven't already implied it with my previous gushing, it was completely genre defying. Part murder mystery, part epic romance, part Greek tragedy, part comedic buddy story, part horror-it’s these constant shifts in the fabric of the story that made the book so addictive. I, personally, became wrapped up in the romance at the centre of the story (as I usually do, with any work of fiction, because I’m SUCH A BLOODY WOMAN) which was just bizarre and magical, but there are so many layers to this book, that there’s really something for everybody. Above the age of, let’s say, thirteen. Which brings me onto…..

2. There is explicit sex and very explicit violence towards cute animals in this book so maybe just be prepared for all that:
My general view about both these things is that if it’s not necessary to the story, then it probably doesn’t need to be there,(3) because if I want to read graphic cringe worthy sex scenes, I’ll read a Mills and Boon novel.(4) In this case, the sex scenes, though relatively explicit, were written with sensitivity and were necessary for the story to progress; because the teenage protagonist Kafka is essentially on a quest to discover himself, sexual discovery must be included as part of this. The animal cruelty scene was horrific and needed to be. If there was a turning point in the novel that scene would be the main contender, and needed to be as horrendous and memorable as possible in order to motivate the characters and provide momentum to the narrative. If it’s still hard for you to swallow, please do remember that it is A WORK OF FICTION.

1. The Characters:
The characters are layered and genuinely likable. Both characters are so compelling, that once you get caught up in one narrative, it switches to the other-and the exact same thing happens. It’s a page turner with a capital PT. Basically if you like magic realism, fantasy, romance or horror, you will love this book. If you like excellent writing, superb characterization and a plot that will keep you completely involved and engrossed from page one, then you will love it too. There’s nothing more I can say, JUST READ IT WILL YOU.


(1) I think that, in a way, the evolution of the Japanese portrayal of monsters reflects the portrayal of the Japanese culture itself-once a mysterious, fearsome and solitary beast that reacts aggressively when threatened, now a lovable, cute and quirky bunch that just want to be friends with everyone and explore the world, usually in groups of about 150 or more.

(2) I do this because I figure that if it’s famous, it’s most likely a good enough read. Not true. I should probably think about changing this tactic at some point actually.

(3) More on this when I review The Slap.

(4) I actually love Mills and Boon.

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