I was introduced to Murakami by a good friend a few years ago after their return from living in Japan, and Kafka on the Shore is the third of his books that I’ve read. As always, it took me the better part of the novel before I was absorbed by it, and finished the second half in short time. In contrast to A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance, which mainly followed a single character, the narrative of Kafka on the Shore is spread over several characters who are equally dominant in the themes of the novel. Broadly speaking, it’s a coming-of-age story as we travel with the characters on their respective journeys. But such a description doesn’t do it justice.
Murakami has captured that style of writing that I associate with J. D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitsgerald, who are credited as his influences. I might not have drawn the connection so strongly if I hadn’t read about that, though. I think it was a quote on the back of one of his novels that said something like that he creates poetry in writing about the mundane, and I’ve never read a better description of his writing. These aren’t the expositions of the intelligentsia who reflect abstractly on the meaning of their life, in the style of say Hermann Hesse (my favourite author ever); rather, Murakami’s work is composed of the small details of his characters’ stories. They don’t strive or battle, they just live, and it’s such a base connection that allows us to empathise and achieve enlightenment with them.
The other hook into Murakami’s work is the incredible surreal environments he places his stories in. From my previous paragraphs, it would be assumed that his novels are set in a reflection of the world we live in, and its familiarity provides us the context for being drawn into their environments. Well, that’s not entirely the case. Murakami’s reality is indeed a reflection of ours, but a wonderfully expanded version of the universe we live in. At the same time, the unremarkable way he presents his surreal worlds make them imminently believable. The gap between his world and ours is totally seamless.
There’s nothing really to say about Murakami that hasn’t been said before. Kafka on the Shore continues his tradition of stories with deceptively simply storylines as we follow his characters through a surreal version of his Japan. Profound experiences are had by all involved. Including the reader.