Every once in a while I pick up a novel that I really want to enjoy, only to find myself disappointed. “Kafka On the Shore,” in many ways, was that novel for me. I love Murakami’s work and I’ve been reading him for years; ever since I discovered some of his short stories in the New York Times. “Kafka” is one of his most highly-rated novels and widely considered a classic. I was buzzing with excitement when I bought the novel, which took me several years to finish — and not because of how long it was.
I feel that it’s necessary to first acknowledge that this novel is not without its strengths. Some of the plot points were fascinating, if not preposterous. Spoiler alert: there is a scene involving Colonel Sanders and a dead cat that I may never forget for as long as I live. The genre is one of my favorites and Murakami should be given a lot of credit for his contributions to magical surrealism as a genre. He has an uncanny way of combining mundane reality with the magical and mystical into something intriguing and familiar. “Kafka” hits that mark, but keeps going until it falls over the edge.
The characters are miserably simple and flat, made worse by the ridiculous nature of the plot. This is certainly a matter of opinion, but I felt that his plot either deserved better characters or that his characters should have been given a plot that matched their pace.
This story follows two seemingly unrelated plots surrounding two characters who are very different but who are both embarking on a journey to find something. Kafka, the teenage boy who the novel is named after, is fleeing his emotionally dormant home where he lives with his father. He is searching for his long lost mother and sister. Nakata is a mentally-disabled old man who has an uncanny ability to track down missing cats. One lost cat takes him farther than he’s ever traveled before when he then teams up with a jaded trucker.
The plot picks up when Kafka’s life becomes unexpectedly dark. All at once, he begins being visited by a ghost and becomes the subject of a murder investigation. He has to go into hiding in the woods where he experiences all levels of surreal delusions. All of this seems fascinating enough, but it falls flat. The characters are bland and unsympathetic, making all of the things happening around them feel insignificant and detached. As a reader, you want to find out where everything is going, but it felt difficult to proceed with this one.
I think it is worth mentioning that some of this may have come from cultural differences between reader and author. Haruki Murakami is Japanese and writes in his language. All of the copies of his novels in publications and novels have been translated into the preferred language. I do not doubt at all that some of the meaning is lost in translation; however, I don’t think this fully excuses the novel, as I have enjoyed his work before.
That being said, despite the low rating I’m giving it, don’t think this novel was necessarily a waste of time. It certainly touched on some interesting themes in unconventional ways. I only wish that it had been done with more passion and energy.
Rating: 2.5/5 stars