Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Review As You Read - Kafka on the Shore

On November 21, 2014 I began reading Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. I'm equally thrilled and bored by the novel, and since this is quite a strange combination of sensations I thought I would share it with you all in a special post: RAYR -- Review As You Read. This post is a sort of diary where I vent out my general musings as I turn the pages of this...fantasy?...drama?...literary? novel. I'll do my best to be vague, but I should still say (just in case) SPOILER ALERT.

If you don't mind spoilers and want a chapter-by-chapter timeline, this site is excellent.

November 21 to 24

Kafka (not his real name) Tamura runs away from home on his fifteenth birthday, under the shadow of a dark prophecy (which I still don't know). This might sound a bit bland (I mean, another prophecy kid, really?), but the truth is the story has its interesting points. For example, in the very first chapter Kafka is urged on by the slightly creepy "boy named Crow," a sort of Friend? Hallucination?

Sadly, though, the following chapters were a big letdown. Kafka travels by long-distance bus and the journey is excruciatingly boring--it's like you're there with him! I guess you could say that's good... Puts us right in the scene... *sigh*

Soon after--surprise! Kafka wakes up in a garden, covered in blood, and has no idea what happened or how long he's been passed out. News breaks out that his father was stabbed to death. Hmmm... *suspicious, ain't it?*

Another main character is the old man Nakata, who experienced a very unusual accident as a child and ended up a bit dim-witted. This character is introduced for the first time through top-secret interviews (yeah, there's a whole Area 51 feel surrounding this story...). To tell the truth, at first I didn't care much for the tedious statements. However, as the unusual story unfurled, I found myself wanting to know more.

After hearing about Nakata's childhood experience, we have the pleasure of meeting him. As I mentioned, he's quite old and his delicate mental condition has him living on a government "sub city." Don't underestimate Nakata, though: there's one unique thing he can do, and that's talk to cats. Any conversation with a cat is purrrfect in my book! So far, I find Nakata's story much more engaging than Kafka's, as the old man is searching for a lost cat and comes across a very dangerous character by the name of Johnnie Walker. I'm a bit hesitant to read on, since I'm pretty sure this dangerous guy kills animals (mainly cats) for pleasure--and animal cruelty is something I absolutely cannot stomach.

Finally, I have to warn you all about a certain chapter about a library. I don't know how I pulled through. It literally sucked away my will to live and I ended up skimming a few of the pages just to get it over with. It's somewhere around chapter 3 or 4. I don't dare look back because I have the feeling that once I open those pages again the boredom will drag me down into a puddle of despair. It might just be me, but it was the most boring chapter I've ever read as far as I remember. You'll know which one it is when you come across it. Basically, Kafka investigates a library. Oh, no. The memories.

November 25

Did I say the library chapter was bad? Wait until you reach Chapter 16. It's a completely different type of bad--it's EVIL. I'll admit it's powerful. It follows Nakata on his search for the lost cat Goma into the home of Johnnie Walker, who I will now describe as Satan personified. Did I mention I can't stomach animal cruelty? I've said enough. This chapter disgusted me so much I had trouble sleeping that night--and the following night as well. However, this is for now one of the most powerful scenes I've read in the entire novel, and Walker is especially interesting. I do hope we get to learn more about him because he added a deep touch of dark fantasy to the story.

I do feel sorry for Nakata. The poor old man has been through so much--though I feel much, much sorrier for Mr. Kawamura...

November 26 to 30

Fish and leeches rain from the sky. Kafka reveals the prophecy (and it's one most of us have heard before...). Nakata, after recent horrifying events, decides to leave his neighborhood for the first time in his life. He's searching for something--though he's not sure what. As if driven by some divine force, Nakata hitchhikes his way west and eventually teams up with a young man called Hoshino, who drops everything to be his loyal follower. Together, they find the entrance stone--and open it (basically, Hoshino has to turn it over and it becomes the heaviest stone in the world). Now that the door is open...what'll happen?

So what does Kafka do while all this is going on? Basically, he makes friends with Oshima, a librarian at the famous library we read about earlier, and ends up living in the library's guest house. He learns about Miss Saeki, the head librarian, and her tragic past. Monumental coincidence: when she was younger, Miss Saeki recorded a single called Kafka on the Shore. The lyrics are the most ambiguous thing ever, but I have the suspicion we'll understand everything clearly as the pages go by.

Once again, the chapters involving Nakata overshadow the Kafka chapters, at least as far as my own personal interest goes. Kafka tells his story in the first person whereas Nakata's chapters are told in an omniscient third person narrative voice. Even so, I feel much closer and much more empathetic towards Nakata than the teenage runaway. I believe this is because Nakata sparks a sort of tenderness in me: he's sweet and naive so I want things to go well for him. Most of all, I want him to recover what he lost in his childhood accident, and I believe--hope--that's where the story is heading.

His story so far is also much more straightforward than Kafka's. Kafka's chapters involve long existentialist paragraphs, quotes from Greek plays and philosophers, and repetition of the same metaphysical questions. All this is all right--up to a point. As a reader, I usually want more action and less metaphysical moping about.

So far, I've read up to the point where Nakata and the faithful Hoshino reach the library where Kafka has been spending his days--though Kafka is away at the time because the police are searching for him regarding his strange disappearance and the even stranger death of his father.

My next post will be the conclusion and final overall opinion. Not that many pages left! I hope all the loose ends get tied up!


  1. This story gives a lot to write about, even if it's a bit boring at times. I have to say, my curiosity is higher than it's been in a while. I can't wait to discover the sub city. LOL.

    Cute. :)

  2. Hi Diane! I have to admit this post is rather bland--it's more a "trying-to-be-spoiler-free" summary of the book so people who might be interested in reading it can make a decision. So, have you decided to read the novel? Or are you already reading it?

    My next post on the subject will be a traditional review. ;-)


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