Kafka on the Shore is like a surrealistic painting or a David Lynch movie. There is a plot, there are characters that are occasionally coherent and there are elements of mystery. But, if you are looking at resolution, that too a water tight, Sherlock Holmes kind of a resolution, you are bound to be disappointed. But if you expect lyricism, a poetic resolution, Murakami does a fabulous job of it. His prose is minimalistic, no surprise that, considering his fandom for Raymond Carver, it is lyrical and haunting. After finishing the book, you can not believe you could not put it down. It does not seem to contain that much of an anticipation, but it does.
Life has been harsh for a fifteen year old Kafka, the book does not tell you why, but it has something to do with his father. He embarks upon a journey of … well the book does not tell you what. There is a parallel story of Nakata, an old man with a paused intellect. Nakata makes his living by talking to cats, yes, that is what the book is like. Cats talk. Nakata is also going to embark upon his own journey … well not only the book, but even Nakata does not know why, what and where. Do the two protagonists have anything in common? Would their journeys have anything in common? Does the weird stuff resolve? I would be doing injustice to the book, if I tell you any of that.
There is plenty of music, plenty of philosophy, plenty of pop culture, modernist icons – all of which give you a feel of this being a post-modern book. The philosophy talks about Hegel in the same breath as Buddha. The characters spout enormous gyan(knowledge) that completely belie who they are. But that is the core thesis of the book. Things are not what they look to be. There is deeper significance of everything – you just don’t know what it is. And probably even the author does not, and he does not care. There is conversation about musical scales, Beatles and Mozart. In fact, you can see the book as a musical symphony, something that is exquisite, but indeciferable. As music poses a challenge to the rational mind hypothesis, the book also seems to do the same.
There is a lot of violence, but it is in the vein of Tarantino. There is sex, immoral sex – things that will make some people very queasy. But the way Murakami narrates them, makes them sound very ordinary. So, in this world, they are just literary devices, just like the Yama and Yami story in Indian mythology. There is a lot of mythology in the book, Greek tragedies mainly. Murakami uses them to create the effect he wants to create. Ultimately, it is the job of the reader to figure out if they mean anything. No wonder there are puzzle sites dedicated to the book, where people are trying to figure out what Murakami is trying to say, just like there are sites dedicated to Dylan lyrics. Murakami probably meant the book as one single, big poem. He talks about metaphors explicitly in the book, as well as many other literary devices. The characters suddenly burst into being a literary critic and tell you about these devices.
In short, the book is an experience. Especially people who like lyricism and go by their intuition to understand things. I am actually surprised the book sold millions of copies. It just tells you the talent Murakami has for narrating stuff like it was an ordinary thing. His talent for narration is amazing. The book is unputdownable, though you may feel a little disappointed after finishing it. Half way through the book, I thought I am going to read it again, but in the end I felt that it is a one time read. Recommended with a 4/5 rating.