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Kafka On The Shore


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From the official Murakami website -

“Kafka Tamura runs away from home at fifteen, under the shadow of his father’s dark prophesy.

The ageing Nakata, tracker of lost cats, who never recovered from a bizarre childhood affliction, finds his pleasantly simplified life suddenly turned upside down.

As their parallel odysseys unravel, cats converse with people; fish tumble from the sky; a ghost-like pimp deploys a Hegel-spouting girl of the night; a forest harbours soldiers apparently un-aged since World War 2. There is a savage killing, but the identity of both victim and killer is a riddle – one of many which combine to create an elegant and dreamlike masterpiece.”



Haruki Murakami creates worlds that seem just slightly out of kilter to our existing world. As if he can tap into an alternative universe, one that’s just next door to ours or perhaps just a few doors down. You know the kind of neighbours that always say hello but you’re never too sure about them? The kind who if you were a child you’d believe there were magical things happening in their house. Murakami provides us with riddles within riddles, he weaves plots till you’re left standing at the edge of a mountain that’s not there, in a universe that spins in different directions all at the same time.


But he does all this with consummate skill and populates his books with believable and likeable characters. You want to walk in their company. You want to talk with them, look at them understand them a little more. So you walk down your street and you knock on the door of those strange yet enticing neighbours and they invite you in and offer you a drink that fills your world with space and time and wonder and questions. Always more questions.


I wouldn’t say I was fully understanding this novel but I was picking up on some of the themes most of the way through until near the end when I think I started to lose it. That drink the otherworldly neighbours were plying me started to take effect and I lost the plot.


According to Murakami  "Kafka on the Shore contains several riddles, but there aren't any solutions provided. Instead, several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It's hard to explain, but that's the kind of novel I set out to write".[1


Part of me thinks hmm, maybe you’ve created a very clever book and another part of me reads this explanation that “the solution will be different for each reader.” as a cop out. Either way I’ll continue to read Murakami because I like to visit his alternative universes. I like to sit on the edge and look down at nothing but time and space and the infinite wonder of thought.  

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Oh, this must be yet another casualty of one of the site's two big crashes, as I can't believe I have not posted about this book before.


This was the second Murakami novel I read, following Norwegian Wood, really the book that made his name outside Japan. That's a common route into the great man's work, but I'd have to say this is really the one that totally seduced me into his world, for much the same reasons Tay describes in his excellent post. It is the atmosphere of mysteries just out of reach that he weaves so wonderfully that won me over.


If you have a taste for magical realism (and I do) this might be a good place to start. Others of his novels are more naturalistic, such as the aforementioned Norwegian Wood, if that kind of writing is not so much for you, but it was this book that convinced me Murakami's genius.  

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My first exploration into the sand shifting world of Murakami was Hard Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World. There seem to be some similar themes in both novels. Nakata in Kafka doesn't have a shadow and the beings in the walled city at the End of the World have their shadows removed when they enter the city. Was the town that Kafka visited after his journey through the forest with the two soldiers the same end of the world city in Hard Boiled? Are these places depicting an afterlife or just another part of our brains? A lucid dream state, in other words our very own parallel world hidden within the myriad data that comprises our brain? We are our own conundrums, our whole existence waits inside the walls we create inside our minds. Hiding and altering time and place we release and reveal only minute parts of our whole sometimes in dreams, sometimes in our waking hours through memory and exploratory thought. 

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Wish I had read this thread a month or so ago. :)

Read Norwegian Wood just before Christmas and was so enamoured I looked on-line at reviews to choose the next.

Saw this review by David Mitchell of Cloud Atlas fame who strongly recommends The Wind Up Bird Chronicle over this book, so purchased. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/jan/08/fiction.harukimurakami

I suppose it depends on your point of view with this author.

Will probably be my third Murakami novel.

Edited by Clavain
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Much of this discussion reminds me of The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway, so you might want to take a look at that book, too.  I am glad I read it, but don't hanker after repeating the experience, so I'm not sure I'll read this book.  I would prefer that one of you read it and tell me whether or not I'm right that the two are similar.

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I read  Norwegian Wood some time ago, on Gram's recommendation,  and enjoyed both story. writing and characters  very much indeed, but that was down to earth and all too realistic.  Have been putting off Kafka on the Shore, although I have it on audible, because I'm not always sure about magical realism and philosophical thoughts. I like humourous magical realism  such as in The Good Mayor  by Andrew Nicoll, but that had an ongoing storyline to it as well and wonder if KOTS also has a good story and humour amongst the riddles.  Please can you comment Tay?

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Hi Grasshopper, KOTS has an engaging story, Murakami creates believable characters. He lets them breathe and live their book bound life. The narrative of both the main characters is accessible and intriguing but their experiences are unusual as I'm sure you would expect from magical realism. There is humour in the book but the story isn't a comedy, it deals with serious subjects. Only other thing to mention is that Murakami's characters do tend to have sexually explicit encounters. This doesn't bother me but when 1Q84 was being discussed here on BGO I had overlooked the frequency of the sexual content (mainly because it just seemed part of the story and nothing out of the ordinary to me) and another member of BGO commented on this and their dislike of too much sex in books.   

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  • 6 years later...

After enjoying Norwegian Wood I thought I'd give this a go. And while I enjoyed the reading experience once more, I wasn't exactly convinced by the writing. There were things that only mildly bothered me in Norwegian Wood but which I dismissed because I saw them as one-off issues for that particular book. Kafka on the Shore, however, demonstrated that they're part of Murakami's entire style. The endless descriptions of what every character is eating or drinking at all times (I know how food works, thanks), and the fact that everyone seems to express even the most basic degree of fondness for one another through some kind of sexual contact ('hi, you seem nice, would you like a hand-job?'). In Norwegian Wood this stuff seemed (tangentially) to make a certain amount of sense given the context but here, it becomes clear that this is just Murakami's thing. It doesn't spoil the book in any way, it's simply a little tedious.

Then we have the actual story. It's all rather vague and metaphorical, a story about alternate dimensions, parts of your soul being lost, and so on. That's fine but I tend to view that kind of thing as more of a gimmick than anything else; one which is masking the fact that the book doesn't actually have anything meaningful to say about the human condition. Dazai's 'No Longer Human' has a great deal to say about the complexities of human existence but at no point does he rely on KFC's Colonel Sanders turning up as a character to get you a good blow job from a sex worker (that actually happens). I can imagine that if you're someone who doesn't read much then this might seem so whacky and weird that it's an example of mind-bending literary genius. When, in truth, it's simply a story about a magic stone and a man who can communicate with cats.

That all being said, I really did enjoy reading it. Murakami writes in a thoroughly fluid and page turning manner that is hard to knock. But that's the least I'd expect from genre fiction. And that's what this is: genre fiction. Something to read on the beach when you're on holiday.

I'd definitely recommend it as a piece of entertainment but generally speaking it's not my cup of tea. I will probably delve into more of Murakami's work at a later date but I'm in no rush. I think I've got the gist of what he's about. Fun to read but of little literary significance.




Edited by hux
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  • 2 months later...

Just wanted to add this: Most of his works involve characters descending into deep, dark places underground - almost always dry wells - and in the darkness all boundaries between body, mind, air, self vanish; this sets up Murakami to effectively and beautifully deal with questions of enchantment and metaphysics. Kafka on the Shore is slightly different in that there is no well; instead, Kafka (the character in the book) spends plenty of time alone in the woods, and then finds out about the entrance stone (I won't discuss this to avoid spoilers). The woods here possess the sort of "depth" Murakami's fictional wells possess, and the ruminations that follow are quite beautiful. Just interesting to note that the woods become the thematic equivalent of wells here.

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