In the spirit of trying to get rid of the “zero posts” indicator in many of these forums, and thus attempting to encourage others to post when they come across these forums, I thought I would share my own bedside reading at the moment.
I recently finished Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. I’m a big Huruki Murakami fan, but I have to say that this wasn’t his greatest work. Compared to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, A Wild Sheep Chase, Norwegian Wood, Sputnik Sweetheart or Hard-Boild Wonderland and the Edge of the World, it felt laboured, tired and unoriginal, not to mention intensely frustrating.
When you pick up a Murakami book you do not expect traditional resolutions. Instead, you know that you are going to enter a bizarre and wonderful world in which dreams (and nightmares) converge on reality whilst nonchalant young characters engage in the sort of charming, funny and overly intelligent conversations that you would like to engage in yourself were it not for the job, the washing-up, being tired, having to feed the cat, that programme at 9 and so forth. Nonetheless, you do expect some sort of meaning to the whole thing, however opaque it may seem at first. For me, KOTS really fails in this regard. There is a lot of “chatter” between characters that is bereft of the intelligence or purpose of the dialogue in earlier novels, and which fails to have any relevance to the plot (what there is of it). A lot of this chatter revolves around something called the “entrance stone”, which is only mentioned at about the two-thirds point, and which Murakami appears to invent on the spot to explain earlier events - though he then fails to show how it explains anything at all.
Unpicking the plot would be pointless - and impossible. It all starts off really promising: a boy is running away from home, and this is intercut with chapters in which a strange event that occurred during the Second World War is investigated, which may or may not have something to do with UFOs. But after a few chapters of this, Murakami seems to grow bored and gets rid of these chapters and replaces them with a more traditional narrative about a character who was affected by these strange events. These two narratives are then followed throughout, though they are never really parallel and only barely “interweave”. By the halfway mark I knew, with a sinking heart, that Murakami would never resolve or explain any of the weirdness involved, but I made the decision to forge ahead to the end anyway, given that I had already given over so much time to it.
I actually feel cheated: yes, I think Murakami cheated. He wrote some great, captivating passages and created some grotesque characters and events, but the trouble is that he is using the conventions of a thriller without any respect for the reader’s expectations. By this, I mean that he pulls the reader in with very strange happenings which make the reader ask, “What on earth is happening here? Who is this Johnny Walker character? What exactly did happen to make Nakata only half a man, to lose his intelligence?” The reader reads on in hope of finding the answers to all of these questions. And that sinking feeling I had at the half-way mark was the realisation that Murakami had no intention of answering any of these questions.
Leaving a little to the imagination of the reader is a good thing; leaving half of the plot to the reader’s imagination, however, only makes me think that we readers should receive half of Murakami’s advances and royalties. In short, if you haven’t tried Murakami before, pick up one of his other books: this one might reasonably put you off. If you have read Murakami before and were thinking about reading this one, I simply advise you to stop reading if you find yourself wanting answers to any of the questions raised.
Oh, The Sea Came In At Midnight… I am reading that now. It’s by somebody called Steve Erickson. It is beautifully written, but I’m not sure whether that is enough yet to prevent this from being another book to add to my half-read list.