Just finished reading it. Still speechless. The end is a bit swishyswashy, though I don't think this word actually exists. What I mean is he could have done a WAY BETTER JOB on the last 30 pages after having written about 600 hundred without a flaw. Like, who IS his mother? Why does Johnny Walker do what he does? Where is he coming from? Why does he want to get to where he wants to get to? This is not a loose end, this is just some crappy end. The whole novel is a MARVEL, a, actually two BRILLIANT stories. One about Kafka, a teenage runaway, the other about a "slow" sixty-seventy-something guy called Nakata. And there is a lorry driver who really gets in the depth of everything, but, comes out of it as a newborn person.
Will write more about it soon if I have time. It would be good, as I feel that at last and at least I have something to write about.
A recurrent obsession in the books of Haruki Murakami is the idea of the labyrinth. His characters are always searching for something and mostly that thing is the emergency exit from his stories. His minotaurs come in all shapes and sizes. In A Wild Sheep Chase, it was a demonic would-be ruminant with world domination on his mind. In The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, there were the possessed healer Nutmeg Asakasa and her mute son, Cinnamon. Here there are monsters in the guise of Johnnie Walker, a malevolent, bottled-up spirit complete with tall hat and tails, and Colonel Sanders, who takes shape as a riddling pimp in a white suit selling sex and possibility in a side alley (with not a chicken wing in sight).
In several places in Kafka on the Shore, characters discuss the origin of the word labyrinth, dwelling on the notion that it has its roots in the ancient habit of laying out the disembowelled guts of an enemy on the sand to divine the course of the future. There are along the way several acts of disembowelment - Johnnie Walker, for example, has a taste for eviscerating stray cats - and mostly they lead to the conclusion that all of our mazes lie within us. It is, for Murakami, our fate to find a safe (and amusing) passage out of the life that fate has made for us.
Theseus-in-chief on this occasion is Kafka Tamura, a 15-year-old in the Tokyo suburbs, who lives with his father, a brilliant and fearful sculptor. When he was four, Kafka Tamura's mother left home with his sister. He does not know why they went, or where, and the quest of the book, and one of its various whodunits, lies in his vague, compulsive attempts to find out. He leaves home, heads south and ends up working in a curious library in the provincial town of Takamatsu. He is haunted by the oedipal prophecy his psychotic dad gave to him when he was seven: that he would end up killing his father and sleeping with his mother and his sister.
Kafka Tamura wants to escape from this fate but, in his dreams, of course, is drawn towards it. The fun and drama of Murakami's storytelling is that you are never quite certain where those dreams end and where reality begins. His singular skill as a novelist lies in creating hallucinatory landscapes in which everything has an internal logic and much has the cool erotic intensity of fantasy. He is a devout disciple of Chekhov's idea that 'if a pistol appears in a story, eventually it has to be fired'. He has talked often in interviews of allowing his stories to lead him where they want to go, from one sentence to the next. It is a risky, jazz-like strategy and it leads to dead ends as well as open roads.
Not surprisingly, Murakami is drawn as well to the idea of seismic dislocation, the kind of life events that make anything possible. His two non-fiction books dwelt on the victims of the Kobe earthquake and the terrorist gas attack on the Tokyo underground. In each case, Murakami interviewed victims with the kind of attention he might have reserved for interrogating characters he had invented. What was it exactly about their lives that had changed? he asked the stunned survivors. What new sense of narrative did they feel?
The dramatic act of fate in Kafka on the Shore falls on schoolchildren out with their teacher collecting mushrooms at the end of the Second World War. A plane passes over, or at least something very high up, and all 16 children fall to the floor unconscious like actors in 'some weird avant- garde play'. When they come round hours later, none can remember what happened. All but one of the children are unaffected by the incident, but that one, Nakata, has had all his memory, and his ability to remember, erased. The novel finds him in later life, the fool from the hill, in the same Tokyo suburb as Kafka Tamura, with an ability to speak to cats, and a skill for making unusual things fall from the sky. The weather of Murakami's novel is thereafter interrupted by squalls of mackerel and showers of leeches.
Somehow, the lives and dreams of Kafka Tamura and Nakata the rainmaker are linked. The clues seem to lie with Oshima, a cross-dressing librarian, who befriends Kafka Tamura, and the unsettling Miss Saeki, once Japan's Kate Bush, who is locked in the past of a murdered lover and has written a book about survivors of lightning strikes. Kafka Tamura believes Saeki might be his mother. He is visited by her 15-year-old self as he sleeps in her dead lover's room and, unsure if he is awake, has amazing sex with a ghost who he knows is asleep.
All of Murakami's writing is suffused with a sense of loss, as if his face were pressed against the glass of next, more perfect worlds. While he was writing this book, he was completing a new Japanese translation of The Catcher in the Rye in the evenings, and you might find traces of Holden Caulfield in the character of Kafka Tamura, in his mistrust of adult lies about life, in his tender consciousness.
One way out of his particular oedipal maze is through an impenetrable forest - complete with missing Japanese Second World War soldiers - to places where young lovers stay young forever, with all the wonder and fright of that prospect. It would not be Murakami, however, if there were not plenty of alternative exit strategies, too.