Kafka On The Shore- Murakami   Leave a comment

I have read several books by Murakami from the ‘1001 books to read before you die’ list, and enjoyed them, so I approached this novel with some anticipation.

This book was published in 2005 in English, and is quite long at 615 pages. It was originally published in Japanese in 2002. Murakami is well regarded in both Japan and England, in fact his work has been translated into 50 languages. His work is often surreal, with magical aspects. His characters are often lonely and melancholic.

A lot of Murakami’s work makes references to classical music, however in Kafka on the shore, the title itself is a song referred to in the novel. I have found that Murakami likes to use the idea of parallel worlds, and in this novel he weaves this with the Japanese idea of ghosts, particularly the ability of the soul to appear as a ghost and communicate.

Kafka on the Shore has a two-pronged storyline. The main story follows a 15 year old as he runs away, and hides out in a private library in a distant town. He renames himself Kafka and makes relationships with the staff of this library. Kafka’s story follows the odd numbered chapters. He is determined to avoid a curse, with broad oedipal echoes, which his father has repeatedly of in recent months. He is also attempting to find his mother and sister, who disappeared from his life when he was very young. He has to accept the help of Oshima, the librarian, when the police actively attempt to trace him following the brutal murder of his father.

The even numbered chapters give us Nakata’s story. He had an accident as a young boy, and now is unable to read or reason deeply, but can communicate with cats; so is often employed to trace missing cats. Whilst trying to find one of these cats, he has a traumatic experience, and decides he must leave the city. He eventually befriends a lorry driver, Hoshino, who is determined to help him complete his quest.

There is a deep feeling on spirituality in this novel, with metaphoric allusions to heaven and references to death, and the ability to cross time and communicate with another person. The beauty of music is often referred to, and the lorry driver, Hoshino, learns much about Beethoven and begins to appreciate classical music, as he learns a new way of regarding the world around him, during his quest with Nakata.

I particularly enjoyed the novel. I loved the spirituality and exploration of heaven and crossing time. Time travel is a soft spot of mine, and this was a totally new way of tackling an old chestnut. The entire novel comes across as slightly ethereal and magical, none of the characters are completely 3 dimensional, but they captivate and you find yourself drawn into the novel. There are many confusing aspects to the novel, all of which are explained, but I was left working some of these out after I had finished the novel. Murakami himself advised it to be read several times, I presume for these reasons.

If you have never read a book by Murakami, this is a great one to start with.

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