Saturday, August 13, 2005

Kafka On The Shore 

I've just finished Murakami's latest (translated) book. Yesterday, while I was sitting on a bench outside the National Film Theatre café in London, reading away (I'd meant to see a film, but got so gripped by the book that I didn't bother), I suddenly realised that the person next to me was reading the same book. I've never really read much fashionable literature, so nothing like that's ever happened to me before. I suppose I'd get it a lot if I read Harry Potter. I wanted to ask this man if he was enjoying it, and I smiled at him briefly, but I didn't have the nerve to strike up a conversation.

Kafka On The Shore alternates different narratives which eventually intertwine, without completely combining, much like one of his previous books The Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World. In one of these (the only first person narrative here, which is unusual for Murakami) Kafka Tamura begins by informing the reader "On my fifteenth birthday, I'll run away from home, journey to a far-off town, and live in a corner of a small library". This he proceeds to do, getting involved with Oedipal prophecies, 30 year old love stories and WWII soldiers along the way. Meanwhile, Satoru Nakata, an old man whose bizarre accident as a child left him able to talk to cats but unable to read or do much else, finds himself journeying for his own reasons, rains of fish and leeches accompanying him along the way. Much else happens, but since I'd recommend the book, I won't bother ruining it for anyone here.

I know a lot of other Murakami fans have been disappointed by Kafka, and it's certainly not his best book, but in terms of its scope it had the makings - at least for the first half or so - of a great classic for him. Perhaps that's why people were disappointed, since it doesn't end that way. But I'm used to being slightly disappointed with Murakami endings now. I forget books very quickly, but I'm pretty sure that even The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - easily his best book - had a slightly irritating conclusion. It's as if Murakami, having created all these incredible worlds, has no idea how to return them to a conclusion in line with what we expect in this world.

As a result, I never expect to be entirely satisfied with his books anymore, but they're all the more enjoyable for that. This one was a particular breath of fresh air, because for once it didn't feature the stock types which fill too much of his work - a middle-aged self-unreflective muso male obsessing about a nubile and precocious teenage girl. There is a sexy young woman, but she doesn't feature highly, and though the consciousness of some of the main protagonists occasionally borders on the middle-aged muso, he steers clear of it for the most part. Instead, we get a lot of sex - more than usual I think - featuring some fairly controversial scenes and at one point a particularly memorable Hegelian prostitute.

Murakami's always very good at slipping in details which show how well read and cultured he is, in all sorts of different areas, and these are usually things which enrich his work. This time around these references were more philosophical than usual, and while the Communist lorry driver is great fun, and that prostitute entertaining, occasionally these became a bit jarring, the ideas touched on too superficially to be worth it. Something that certainly works as a recommendation for Kafka, though, is that it left me wanting to go to the library and find several of the other books and CDs it mentions. It's just a shame I've no Murakami left to read, though at least he's one of the few authors I like who's not dead, and thus permanently unproductive. Even if Philip Gabriel isn't the best translator in the world, though, I hope he gives us some more soon. I could learn Japanese and save him the effort, of course, but I think that would take longer...

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?