Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore is now the fourth Murakami novel I have had the pleasure to read, and I must say is quite possibly my favourite so far. To explain why however is somewhat difficult, for each of his novels have transfixed me with their individual quirky narratives and mesmerising style.

To try and put the sensation of reading a Murakami novel into words, you find you are not simply tracing a narrative or following a plot. Rather, you are experiencing each and every moment as though it were of fundamental importance, with every page interwoven with musings of the world and reflections on life. Murakami offers more than just a deeper understanding of his characters, he offers an honest reflection on our own innermost thoughts and experiences. His novels aren’t just food for thought, they’re a whole feast.

Considering this, what never ceases to impress is then the author’s ability to seamlessly fit all his profound philosophies into narratives that are likewise filled with sexual prolifity, acts of violence and random and fantastical occurrences. Kafka on the Shore was certainly no exception to this intriguing style, and is written in such a way that I finished each chapter with what can only be described as a sense of fulfilment.

The novel itself is set in Japan at the turn of the 21st century, and follows the stories of two central characters, Kafka Tamura, a 15 year old runaway, and Nakata, a simple minded old man. In switching between the two vastly different individuals, Murakami creates the sensation of almost reading two novels simultaneously, each with it’s own meanings and conclusions to be discovered.

Unlike the usual peculiarities which surround most of the character’s in these stories, Kafka Tamura’s is actually by and large a ‘normal’ one, filled instead with an abundance of quiet reading, long reflections and conversations with interesting characters. His overall tale is one of hardship, woe and self enlightenment, as he carries out his search for meaning in a world that is ever so apparently hard to teens.

By comparison, with the tale of Nakata stems a narrative filled with the fantastical and strange. From talking cats to fish raining from the sky, these occurrences seem only too natural in the peculiar world Murakami creates. With a simple-minded protagonist and easy-going companion, the erratic and bazaar are all taken in their stride, making this a light hearted and often comic read, though not without it’s fair share of significance and meaning.

As is the case with most of Murakami’s novels, while I enjoyed every moment of this read, on looking back at the narrative as a whole, I can’t help but feel there was little in the way of an overriding plot throughout. Rather, it seems as though the author simply put his pen to page and let the story flow from scene to scene. I’m still debating if this is simply a superior writing style, or rather a reflection of the author writing to discover his own thoughts and meanings as he progresses. As ever, the overriding impression I get however is that the conclusion is not the most significant aspect of the novel, rather it is the journey throughout.

In many ways, Kafka on the Shore is a shining example of this author’s mesmerising style, filled with an abundance of insights and calming metaphor, yet all wrapped up in a quirky narrative that held me enticed throughout.

Length: 505 (Vintage)
Overall Rating: 5 stars

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Author: Jack Jakins

A recent graduate of history, now an aspiring writer and general cynicist

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