Friday, July 5, 2013

The Pendulum That Moves The World (Kafka on the Shore)

Kafka on the Shore is the second book I've read by Haruki Murakami. The Wind Up Bird Chronicle was the first, which I read at the end of May. Normally I space my reading of specific authors out more, even when they are good. I realize that two novels into a career's worth of work technically means I am a novice when assessing the larger significance they might hold in the world of literaturebut damn if I don't think I've found the genuine article here, a master of letters. I see a lot of people try and put a finger on Murakami's particular brand of genius by inserting the names of two to four of their favorites and then adding some off color comment about how they fit together. A common example mentions something like 'having a baby' or 'throwing a party' or 'cramming in a clown car, speeding down the freeway high on mushrooms'. You'll get none of that from me ; though honestly it isn't because I'm altogether against that kind of mash up comparison. I just really wouldn't know how to put it. Murakami is just too uniquely Murakami for me to smartly simplify things for you.

One of the things that struck me during, and after reading this book was just how interesting I found the characters. This is an impressive feat considering the cast presented. Kafka, the main protagonist starts out a runaway whose determined to be the toughest 15 year old kid in the world. Kafka is running away from a prophecy, and a fate out of Greek tragedy. This quest alone may have been enough to carry a very good story – but this was better than very good. As such Murakami introduces us to Nakata, an old man who suffered a mysterious accident in his youth and has subsequently lost the ability to read and write, forcing him to live on what he calls his sub city from the government. However cruel this may seem the accident has somehow left Nakata with the ability to speak with cats. He uses this ability to earn a little money on the side as a cat-finder in his neighborhood. Once the story gets rolling chapters alternate between these primary points of view. Even this doesn't really express the depth of intrigue that Murakami's characters provide. Everyone in this book is interesting and in some way memorable : from the hemophiliac assistant librarian who likes to listen to classical music while speeding in his sportcar, and his generous yet secretive boss who once topped the charts with her one and only record, the truck-driver who shares a name with the manager of his favorite baseball team and feels a duty to the elderly after wild teenage years – not single character is without depth. Colonel Sanders and Johnnie Walker even make appearances, the latter delivering one of the creepiest scenes I've ever read.

Reading Murakami can certainly be a mind-bending experience – though it also feels like a distinctly enriching one as well. We get some ruminations on history, philosophy, poetry, music, classic Japanese literature and more. With so much weirdness going on one might easily get lost in a Murakami novel. Some reviewers have expressed this, saying things to the effect of 'this is a mess of a plotline' or something similar. I can sympathize with that in some respect. I think perhaps if I wasn't so into the story, or if I was otherwise halted in my reading for some reason I might lose my bearings too. Though in my two experiences reading Murakami I have gotten hooked early and flown through them at a good pace. For me it was anything but a mess, in fact I consider it to be incredibly well crafted. It is posed more than once in the novel that everything, including the world is metaphor for something else. I understand that such things can be a bit too highfalutin for some, but I am not of their number. I enjoy a good mental puzzle and Murakami is anything but clumsy with with his layered meanings, otherworldly atmosphere and referencing of all things academic and cultured.

I could go on with a further plot summary, but I really don't like writing those – I also think especially in the case of a writer like Murakami synopsis' are really only going to fill space in a review and not communicate much of what makes the book special. I am tempted to go buy a bunch of Murakami right now and read them in succession. But I won't do that. As much as I've enjoyed both of the novels I've read by him I also kind of like the idea of saving those trips for later. Maybe when I hit a little rough patch of minor or major disappointments I'll come back to Murakami, and the comfort of knowing I won't be bored for as long as it takes me to read a third book by a trusted friend.

For the song I am compelled to use Kafka on the Shore* - first written only in lyric form in the novel and later recorded (and included as part of the audiobook) This blog is called Subliminal Maybe : this sort of takes the maybe out of question, I know. I could have racked my brain and come with something interesting I'm sure. It is an inspiring kind of novel that gets plenty of things turning over in my head. But for all that this still feels like the right choice, if anything is in the spirit of the concept of my blog this is it. Plus how many books actually have a song written 'in them' anyway? I also noticed after looking for the song, not knowing if it was recorded anywhere – and finding it, that there is actually a band called Kafka on the Shore. See what I mean about it being inspiring? 

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