Every one of Haruki Murakami’s novels seems to have some sort of bewitching effect on the reader, and Kafka On The Shore is no exception. The book holds the element of suspense over the reader, as two seemingly unconnected storylines merge together. Just like all of Murakami’s masterpieces, after the last page, I felt like I was breaking the surface of water after being submerged for a week. Or maybe like I was coming out of some sort of reverie.
The story follows a 15-year old runaway, Kafka Tamura, who attempts to escape the Oedipal prophecy made by his father, a famous sculptor who otherwise murders cats in an attempt to make a “flute of their souls.” His struggle throughout the book takes place mostly in his psyche. As Kafka leaves his life behind, finds himself in the comfort of a private library and it’s keepers, Oshima and Miss Saeki.
The second character is a mentally-impaired elderly man, Satoru Nakata, who is “not very bright.” At the end of the second World War, Nakata had been in a strange accident, where his fellow 9-year-old classmates simultaneously lost consciousness in a forest by their school. Although the other students regained consciousness after a short period of time, with apparently no injuries, Nakata was in a coma for weeks. When he awoke, he had lost his ability to read and write along with most of his previous intelligence. However, he was then gifted with the ability to talk to cats.
As the story unravels, reality becomes distorted. It becomes a world where souls leave their bodies to commit crimes of passion and hatred, purgatory-like villages hide in distant valleys, and Colonel Sanders reveals an “entrance stone” to an alternate world.
The rules of reality don’t apply in Kafka On The Shore, but that’s what makes it so enchanting. The book is said to be one of Murakami’s most successful novels, one where his slow urgency, complex mysticism, and the dream-like world is praised by devoted followers and new readers alike.
Kafka On The Shore seems almost intimate to the reader. It is weird and uncomfortable at times, especially as Kafka fulfills his Oedipal-like prophecy, murdering his father, and sleeping with his mother and sister. But there is also a calming, possibly sedative theme in the book. The time that Kafka spends in Oshima’s cabin in the forest, secluded for days in utter silence, offers a sort of privacy that is hard to convey over text.
Both Nakata and Kafka seem suspended in some sort of reality, where neither really progresses but remains in a constant state of neutrality. There’s something comforting about that constant; something that feels safe and secure.
There’s something about Murakami‘s writing style that takes the reader into a world of their own. Sifting through the pages of Kafka On The Shore doesn’t really feel like reading. Rather, like you’re dreaming. Or like you’re in some magic atmosphere where anything goes. That’s what makes his work so unique.