Saturday, September 24, 2011

100 Books 50 - Haruki Murakami's KAFKA ON THE SHORE

When I was in school, magic realism seemed to be the special property of the South Americans -- Jorge Luis Borges, Ernesto Sabato, Gabriel Garcia Marquez above all. And, Borges aside, I found it none too enchanting as an idea or a genre; it stayed on my radar but the pings were few and far between.

Then I stumbled across Haruki Murakami's After Dark while perusing the new books at my local public library a couple of years ago, and got hooked on Murukami's dreamy style, the clear concision of his prose, Murakami's erudition and his strange imagination. I rushed to read the rest of the library's collection of his offerings -- Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle -- and pegged him as someone to watch for, forevermore.

Reading Kafka on the Shore felt a lot like reading W.G. Sebald's Rings of Saturn (quite possibly my favorite read of this waning year) except with narrative. The same seductive dreaminess is there, the same plunges into what just cannot be but is so convincingly presented it feels true anyway, the same reluctance to finish and put the book aside. Unlike Rings of Saturn, though, which I ultimately did put aside to save it for a rainy day, Kafka on the Shore wouldn't let me go until its stories were told -- or mostly told*.

Murakami's characters inhabit strange inner and outer worlds that really don't often make sense, but are rendered in such lovely language (and Murakami does his own translating, I believe!) that the near-incoherence still just works. I can't imagine real people ever having the weirdly opaque conversations these characters do, or making the decisions they do, but I guess that's what makes this realism magic, no?

To talk about the details of the story -- a teenaged runaway, a murder, an Oedipal drama, a quest -- is not so much to commit the hideous modern sin of spoilers as to completely miss the point. This book is a lovely, gentle drug in prose form, mildly intoxicating and more than a little addictive. And yes, I want more.

*Frustratingly, there are narrative questions left unanswered, including one really big one that I'm still a little miffed about. The whole of the two interwoven accounts starts with a strange event of which there is no account; we see its effects but nothing of the cause. This absence still gnaws at me and spoils my enjoyment of the book just a bit.

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