I first read Kafka on the Shore in 2008 and it was my first Murakami. Now I remember why it wasn’t my last.
Kafka is a labyrinth of metaphors and whether you ever make it through this labyrinth and get to the centre is not a certainty. I’m certainly not there yet. Every time you turn a corner and think “ah-ha!” thinking you have finally got it, Murakami sweeps out of your way and you’re left puzzled once again.
I keep getting the feeling that understanding what the story is about, what all the metaphors and symbols are trying to tell me, is just around the corner. It is not as if it feels all completely random and airy fairy. You know that underneath the randomness, the weirdness there is a depth hidden like a yet to be explored world.
Kafka Temura is running away from his father. A dark prophesy hangs over him. Nakata, an old man who can talk to cats ever since a strange accident left him unable to read or think properly. Nakata and Kafka are both on a mission to do something – they just don’t know what. Along the way certain people are able to help them.
Murakami mixes Greek and Japanese folklore – Shinto beliefs of spirits who can travel from this world to another feature, and then the Greek legends of Oedipus, of the labyrinth, also feature. Reading this makes me realise how deficient my knowledge is in both these subjects.
The characters in Kafka on the Shore, seem to live on the edge of reality – one where the spirit world has somehow got mixed up and has confused things. Nakata has a dim shadow – caused perhaps by the strange accident where perhaps his spirit exited his body for a short period. Miss Saeki has a living ghost in the form of her 15 year old self caused by a deep sadness that happened to her long ago. Kafka himself is unsure who is in control of his body, his dreams or his destiny.
There are many questions left unanswered but many parts of this book really made me think. Oshima mentioned voids within people – referencing TS Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men. Does Jonnie Walker represent the emptiness within people?
Are our bodies mere shells stuffed with genetic code. I’m sure everyone has felt like this at some point.
Murakami mentioned wars – in passing not as a main theme but I do think with Murakami that even the smallest things can be significant. It is what he makes you think and feel that become as much part of the story as the actual plot.
There are many other things that got me thinking and chewing over certain ideas. Miss Saeki’s sadness – Kafka’s sadness and how this all seemed to swirl around his mother, her abandonment and his belief that Miss Saeki could be his mother. He has sex with her – who symbolically becomes his mother as Sayuri symbolically becomes his missing sister. Does this strengthen their perhaps spiritual connection with the physical world?
Miss Saeki became an empty shell following the death of her lover when she was a teenager. Perhaps she had become one due to pouring out her entire heart and soul to this young man – who is very similar in character to Kafka. Perhaps that is why she exists between reality and the spiritual world. This wouldn’t be the first of Murakami’s books that touches upon depression and loss.
There are too many things to think about – I already feel I need and want to read this book again and maybe read other books – such as the real author Kafka – to enrich my knowledge. Perhaps with a more rounder understanding of the more prominent themes, my understanding of this book will be better?