Monthly Archives: February 2021

Like a very strange dream

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first book I’ve read by Haruki Murakami. I tend to like surrealism and magical realism, and was looking forward to reading Murakami’s work. My first impression of Kafka on the Shore was, as expected, how strange it was. Murakami has a very creative mind, and I had no idea where things were going. Somewhere around two-thirds through, I was really loving the journey. But by the end, it was all a bit fatiguing and didn’t really amount to much: a creative coming-of-age story with some standard rumination on memory and regret that touches superficially on what much of Japanese and German post-war literature deals with more thoughtfully.

The writing, at least in translation, hewed closer to genre writing than I expected: crisp, straightforward prose with characters that are clearly voicing what the author is trying to get across rather than what this person, if real, would say. Just as a quick example that won’t give away any plot: musings about classical music by both a 15-year old runaway and a truck driver with no experience or education in music are clearly the author’s and not their own. But then, I’m not sure that Murakami means any aspect of this story to be realistic. It’s very explicitly the creation of a single mind. It all seems like a dream, but what undercuts this reading of the book is that there are, particularly toward the end, metaphysical explanations for just about everything that happens, which unfortunately mostly come across as silly. I would have enjoyed this novel more if all the questions it raised simply weren’t answered and were just left unexplained. It’s as if the author sat down to figure out a scheme to explain everything that happened in a crazy dream he’d just woken up from.

Still, the book was memorable and enjoyable, as long as you have a tolerance for fantasy and surrealism. It reminded me a bit of Theodore Sturgeon‘s better books, with some of Clive Barker‘s horrific fantasy creations thrown in. Would I try another book by Murakami after this? No question. Kafka on the Shore is thoughtful and ambitious, but I found it a bit disappointing in the end.