A Writer’s Book review of Haruki Murakami’s ‘Kafka on the Shore’.

I just finished reading Haruki Murakami’s ‘Kafka on the Shore’. I was a little disappointed.
One of my favourite books is ‘1Q84’ by Murakami. It was the first of his books that I read and I think it is wonderful. Why have I had this experience before?
When I first read George Eliot’s ‘Middle March’ I was enthralled and astounded. This was real genius. How had I never read her before? But then I read ‘The Mill on the Floss’ and something negative simmered up.
So too with Cormac McCarthy’s ‘All the Pretty Horses’. Outstanding. Then a letdown with ‘Sutree’.
And I see a pattern that may just be my values as a person and a writer. All three second read, weaker books, had stories that drifted, plots with fatalistic overtones, and characters who were acted upon rather than showing agency.
Young Kafka runs away at the beginning of the book, which is a gutsy thing to do. But it is like he jumps into the river and then just goes wherever the river takes him. Sleuthing out what he wants takes too long, and he never actively goes after it. Some magical forces conspire to bring him to the right places at the right time. Coincidences pile on coincidences, to the point where I had to do a quick lookup of “deus ex machina”, (Latin for: “god from the machine”). Was the fix in?
The writing is stellar. Descriptions, scenes, vistas and places are vivid. But it just goes on too long. It tempted me to jump sections to get the story moving along faster. I didn’t but they could have been edited out. Some physical descriptions, especially of women, felt odd at best. The iterations of describing musical passages felt a little self indulgent, even condescending. Murakami wants you to know he is smarter than you, which is never a good look for a writer.
But my biggest knock on the book was the distance I felt from the characters. Especially as the sections from Kafka were in First person, it was odd that a gap between what he felt, wanted and experienced to the reader develops. He is holding back and so we watch rather than experience the story.
What do these people want? What do they feel? Not what do they think, we get a bit too much of that. What do they feel? Empty is my answer. They lack heart, passion, love, or even hate. Hollow men without agency. Sad.
I didn’t get that in ‘1Q84’, and I didn’t expect it here. It may be harder to read a third book.

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