I don’t always read literary fiction. Despite my English degree slowly gathering dust on my wall, I don’t think that something has to be dense to be enjoyable, and I think that a good story is often enough.
But this book. Guys. Can we just take a moment for how awesome Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami is? This is only my second Murakami (I read 1Q84 when it came out last year and loved it), but this has inspired me to hit up his backlist yesterday.
Okay, so the story is told in two dueling narratives. The first is about a boy named Kafka Tamura, the self-proclaimed toughest 15 year old in the world. He runs away from home and ends up in living in a library in a different region of Japan because the front desk clerk Oshima takes pity on him. So right away, I’m in love with positive portrayals of libraries (especially special libraries up in the hills). Next, (tiny spoiler alert), I appreciate any character that’s queer and not cookie cutter. Oshima is both transgendered and gay, but it’s treated like just another one of those things when he’s taking down some over-sensitive types that try to cause trouble for the library. This story revolves around Kafka staying away from the police who want to question him regarding his father’s apparent murder.
The other narrative follows Nakata, an old, developmentally-challenged man who can talk to cats. It’s alluded to at the beginning that this impairment and subsequent ability occurred due to a military activity he was subject to as a child, but nothing is ever definitively said. He then goes on a series of…quests is not quite the right word, but it’s the closest thing to match what it is with a truck driver named Hoshino.
And it’s not just because the story is crazy and you never know which way that it’s going to turn. And it’s not just because the mystical elements are seamlessly rolled into the real world so that they seem super natural (and not supernatural). And it’s not just that the language and the writing is so smooth that it makes you want to hit somebody. It’s that it’s an obviously literary book that has things to say about metaphysics and life and learning and being and art, but that it’s written in such an accessible way, that you can read it for depth or surface and still have a fantastic time. Deep doesn’t have to be stodgy; Murakami demonstrates this in spades.
I listened to the audiobook version of this. At over 18 hours, it has taken me most of the fall to get through it. But every time I go to walk Micah (the best and wenchiest Australian Cattle Dog in the world), I would look forward to going just a little bit further. I just wanted to know what happened in just that next part. And then again. And again. It’s been a long time since I’ve had that reaction to a book and enjoyed it this much.
JMF Rating: 10/10
‘Til next time,