Friday, July 16, 2010

Kafka on the Shore-book review

I will preface this by saying that I am a huge Murakami fan.  I picked up a copy of Norwegian Wood several years ago (I think I got an uncorrected proof for free).  I was blown away.  His writing style was poignent and amazing.  Norwegian Wood is one of my favorite books and Murakami is one of my favorite authors.  I went on to read some of his short story collections, South of the Border, West of the Sun, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Underground, Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and I listened to Dance, Dance, Dance.  To this point South of the Border was my least favorite and that was because it was just kind of forgettable.  I enjoyed reading it.  Undergound and The Wind Up Bird Chronicles are two more favorites.  Underground is even non fiction. 

This review is for the Audio book version:

The plot follows 15 year old Tamura (Kafka) as he runs away from home.  He has the Oedipal curse placed upon him and that seems to be what he is running from, but he doesn't know who his mother is; she left when he was four.  The curse also stated that he would sleep with his sister.  As the book progresses, it looks as though Kafka is running towards the curse instead of away from it. 

A second part of the plot follows a man named Nakata.  Something weird that is never explained in the book happens that causes him to be mentally deficient when he is young.  He is now old and the governor gives him a subsidy.  He is by far the more interesting character in the story.  He can talk to cats, which makes him an excellent cat finder. 

Throw in some incest, pediphilia, rape/incest, murder, animal mutilation, Colonel Sanders as a pimp, fish and leaches raining from the sky, a transvestite librarian, a philosophy touting prostitute, some classical music product placement, Johny Walker as a pied piper, and some really good dumps and the rest of the story is filled in. 

Like I said earlier.  The Nakata character is the most interesting as is his story arch.  The Kafka character comes across as very Emo and very unnatural for a 15 year old.  He runs across a women and speculates she is his mother, then sleeps with her.  Both characters are aware that he thinks that she is his mother, and the mother is positive that she is.  The Kafka parts of the story come across as Lectures and incestual erotica. 

At one point in the novel, during a lecture, the Chekov line that if there is a gun on the table in act one, it should be

Kafka on the Shore
Haruki Murakami

fired by the end of the play comes up.  This is very ironic because there are all kinds of metephorical guns laying all over the place in the novel and not a single shot is heard at the end.  The resolution wasn't so much a resolution as it was more just throwing the pieces to the wind.  Murakami has a tendency to wander in the last third of his longer works.  It almost seems as he is looking for a way to get to the climax, in his other longer works this has been okay because said wandering has lead us on some kooky adventures.  This book seems to wander the whole way and sure it is a kooky adventure, there is no sense on the kafka side of the narrative that anything has really changed or that he has learned anything. 

Overall this story looked like an incoherent list of tropes from his other works.  It is all there.  Cats, dream worlds, prostitutes, travel, someone too young being given attention by someone much older (although he took a new take on it in this one), world war II playing into the story in some way, the student riots of the 60's in japan, love of music, love of literature, strange sexual sequences, his love of obscure cinema and Woody Allen movies, unrequited love.  Yes, every page of the book feels like you have been there bofore but had a better time the previous trip. 

I can't really suggest this book.  If you are unfamiliar with Murakami, I would suggest a book of his short stories.  He seems to be a polarizing auther as people love him or hate him.  The short stories will give you a feel for his varied writing styles.  I have already mentioned my favorite novels above.  I understand that he can't write something I will like everytime and I hope that this novel is the odd ball out.  It got great reviews from the intellectual elite, but his books are smart and weird so that is to be expected, but this was just derivitive of everything else he has done.  It came across as lazy. 

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