Kafka on the Shore is not my first Murakami but it is definitely the last one I’ve enjoyed since I read Norwegian Wood back in 2005. It seems that Murakami surreal edge tends to wear out in big doses (in fact I’m a fan of all his short story collections) and I tire very easily, the notable exceptions being The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, Which is due for a rereading and this novel.
Funnily enough Kafka on the Shore is a novel I related to, not due to plot as such, but rather the elements which made up the story itself. Any novel which includes cats, libraries, music and Philosophy will appeal to this cat loving (incidentally I’ve got a black cat and brown one as featured in the book) music fanatic, Philosopher (??) Librarian. So I admit I was in seventh heaven whilst reading the book.
15 year old Kafka Temura runs away from home in order to escape a prophesy his father told him when he young. At the same time he is on a journey to find his mother and sister, who abandoned him when he was four years old. On this road trip Kafka makes many startling discoveries and goes through periods of self realisation. Yes this is something Murakami has been pumping out in nearly every novel but it works here and I think it’s more satisfying.
In true Murakami fashion there is also a parallel sub plot, which includes Nakata, the finder of lost cats (again shades of wind up bird chronicle) who goes on a mission, with a truck driver to right the one wrong Nakata committed. This time it is the truck driver who goes through some form of enlightenment. Nakata is presented as a philosopher despite the fact that he is simple minded and illiterate(not unlike Chancey from Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There), due to an accident which happened to him in his youth. Both Nakata’s and Kafka’s destinies cross but they never meet and yet their lives are both intricately entwined.
To say that Kafka on the Shore is addictive is an understatement. I spent no less than three days stuck in a chair eagerly wanting to see what was going to happen next and by the time I finished the book I felt a surge of enjoyment pass through me. The philosophical discussions are eye opening and then the typical Murakami digressions on art, film, history and music are just as educational without being dry. It is a simply wonderful and completely essential novel.
Murakami’s next novel is a homage to 1984 (called 1q84) so I am curious, even tough I think it will take a while to top a towering masterpiece such as Kafka on the Shore.