Monday, October 03, 2005

Book #32: Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Marukami

As diligent readers of this blog (Ha! See what I did there?) will note, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle earlier this year. Perhaps due to the apparently more complete translation, Kafka on the Shore has a more holistic feel to it, although it never achieves the great high points of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

The narrative follows two main characters. Kafka Tamura is a 15-year-old boy who runs away from his distant father and the Oedipal prophecy/curse his father placed on him when he was young. He finds refuge in a small town private library run by a friendly young man and an attractive middle-aged woman who may or may not be his long-absent mother. Meanwhile, Satoru Nakara, a simple-minded elderly man who can speak with cats, becomes involved with a supernatural plot that leads to an unwilling murder, rains of fish and leeches, and a search for a mysterious "entrance stone" that opens an inexplicable door. Their stories are intertwined in ways not immediately apparent.

This is obviously the stuff of fairy tales and the subconscious mind, and Murakami gives it a full rounded life of its own. I thought several times of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, which wanted so badly to mine this territory but fell painfully short. The pop culture references and perfectly captured character study reminded me of Jonathan Lethem's work and, as with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I could picture the action - well, some of it, at least - only in the shimmering anime style of Miyazaki (which, of course, may say more of my slim knowledge of Japanese culture than anything). All of these analogies point to two things: 1) Murakami falls into the comic-book-meets-intelligentsia style of Gaiman, Lethem, and Miyazaki, and 2) I am a big ol' geek.

To be fair, Murakami also suggests other, more high-falutin' Western writers, such as Garcia Marquez and Borges (although not so much Kafka, so... ok), and I understand that much of the book is a tribute to one of the authors Kafka reads during his lazy days at the library in the beginning of the book.

Well, this isn't kid stuff, anyway. Murakami is interested in dreams and the origins of the subconscious, which in this case means that the book has several graphic sex scenes, all between ambiguously inoppropriate partners, graphic violence, and various ways in which the nasty things from Grimm's fairy tales (or Jung's archetypes) slither into a naturalistic setting with deft ease. Yeah, that's the good stuff.


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