As I stated when I read Kafka on the Shore, I was going to re-read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, the main reason being that I felt that I didn’t absorb the last half of the book properly, mainly because I felt that one section of the book dragged and couldn’t keep up the interest to really get into the last 300 pages or so.
Since I was off to France for a weekend and had tons of travelling time, I knew this would be the perfect opportunity to be reacquainted with this novel. Luckily I made it to the end and am quite satisfied that I managed.
Toru Okada is a normal guy, he’s out of work and lives off his wife, which he loves dearly, but other than that life is pretty normal. That is until he receives a mysterious phone call which sets off a chain of events and encounters with some eccentric characters, who all have some sort of life changing past history . Eventually Okada’s wife runs away and Toru resolves that he must know the reason why she did so. This leads him into a twisted web of complex situations, puzzles and Japanese history which change Okada’s philosophies of life.
Although I preferred Kafka on the Shore, I’ll definitely say that Wind-up Bird… is Murakami’s ‘deepest’ novel and touches mainly on his country’s past atrocities . Plus the characters are very believable despite the situation they are placed in. Oh and Malta plays a big role as well!
I must admit though that the bit where Okada spends a couple of days in a well STILL is boring and ruins the pace and absurdity of the novel but survive that and you’ll great rewarded with some eye opening passages and jaw dropping plot twists.
One can easily see why this book is considered Murakami’s masterpiece but I feel that Kafka was more humorous and consistent.
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.