Review of Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

SFFaudio Review

Kafka on the ShoreKafka on the Shore
By Haruki Murakami; Performed by Sean Barrett and Oliver Le Sueur
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 6 August 2013
ISBN: 9780804166553
[UNABRIDGED] – 19 hours, 2 minutes
Excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / cats / helpful librarians  / metaphysical reality / Japan /

Publisher summary:

This magnificent new novel has a similarly extraordinary scope and the same capacity to amaze, entertain, and bewitch the reader. A tour de force of metaphysical reality, it 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. Their odyssey, as mysterious to them as it is to us, is enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerizing events. Cats and people carry on conversations, a ghostlike pimp employs a Hegel-quoting prostitute, a forest harbors soldiers apparently unaged since World War II, and rainstorms of fish (and worse) fall from the sky. There is a brutal murder, with the identity of both victim and perpetrator a riddle–yet this, along with everything else, is eventually answered, just as the entwined destinies of Kafka and Nakata are gradually revealed, with one escaping his fate entirely and the other given a fresh start on his own.

I went on a Murakami reading binge in 2009, and suddenly found myself hitting a wall. What I had started out loving started to overwhelm and suffocate me. I knew I needed a break from him for a while.

I did take a break from the break to read 1Q84, which I really enjoyed. As I listened to the audiobook of this novel, I found myself wishing I’d read this prior to 1Q84. Some of the themes are the same, and I don’t just mean the silly themes like cats and pasta and music, but shifting realities and not being sure about who you are on many levels. They seem more concise in this novel, and I think having this experience first would have made 1Q84 even better.

This past year, Random House has been putting many of Murakami’s works out on audio, so I jumped at the chance to listen to this one as I had not yet read it in print. I enjoyed the audio production immensely. The two narrators bring completely different feelings to the different sections, and the novel shifts back and forth between the narratives of Kafka and Nakata. I enjoyed the haven of the library and the very helpful librarian, but that might have been the only moment of reality in this book.

Murakami always sends me off to listen to music, not just by work but certain performances of a work. I spent several afternoons listening to the Archduke Trio (Beethoven) as performed by the “Million Dollar Trio.” Great stuff.

Posted by Jenny Colvin

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One thought to “Review of Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami”

  1. ‘Kafka On The Shore’ by Haruki Murakami is a novel with dual-stranded plot, shrouded in mysticism, symbols and metaphors – not an easy concoction to handle for a bestseller. Yet surprisingly it turned out to be one of the most popular novels of recent times. I began reading the book with increasing curiosity, and with high expectation, which the dramatic beginning and convoluted plot construction elicited in me, only to lose the steam midway. I definitely got disappointed by the overcomplexity marring the poetic and mystic flow of the narration, overzealous affectation of the author to the myth of Oedipus, and overusage of metaphors and symbolism in his narrative style. I am a great fan of the school of magic realism. But Murakami apparently have gone overboard at many places in the plot construction, leaving too many unanswered riddles, which he insists to be found by the readers through repeated reading of the book, but somehow I cannot buy the idea. I am sorry, but unsolved riddles are meant to goad the readers to search for the greater meaning of life or stimulate their imagination, but not to be used as props to pull up a weak and porous plot to a conclusive end. I am sure that the author have lost his way in the proverbial woods of complex plot building, and has to make a desperate attempt to tie lose ends together leaving many unanswered questions and weak links in the plot in disguise of metaphorical riddles. Well, that does not mean the novel is a poor one. On the contrary, it is brilliant at many places, with excellent treatments and extraordinary narrative, only to fall flat on its face at the end! Please go through it and you would find some unforgettable portions, many interesting characters, and poetic narratives with a deep philosophical undertone. A novel with dual character, much like some of the principal characters of the novel itself, I would say.

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