A cute cat graces the cover of Kafka On The Shore, one which may feature within the story, or it might just be a typical cat. If it was a cat in the story it would probably be dead, so let’s hope it is just a typical cat. Kafka On The Shore may start as a typical story about a 15-year-old boy running away from home, but things quickly take a turn for the weird. Welcome to a tale of raining fish, motherly love and cat killing. Meow. Kafka On The Shore is a tale about finding yourself, and we travel around Japan with two protagonists who are as different as can be. Kafka takes charge in the odd-numbered chapters, a young man looking for a purpose and after running away ends up working in a quiet little library. He hates his father, doesn’t remember his mother or sister and likes to spend his time reading and getting fit. On the even-numbered chapters we follow an old man called Nakata. This guy isn’t too bright after an accident during the war but can somehow talk to cats. He ends up on an adventure after dealing with a dreaded cat killer. The two characters are on the move looking for something, but nothing is ever clearly revealed. It is much a case of going along for the ride. And what a ride it is.
The story starts rather leisurely with Kafka carefully going through his day-to-day routine and the people he meets, while Nakata is on a slow plodding hunt for a missing cat. The world is formed and Murakami shows his expertise in bringing characters and moments alive, no matter how uninteresting or minor they may be. Everything is pleasant but engaging and then he suddenly flicks a switch and things get crazy. Nakata meets a man dressed as the whiskey chap Jonnie Walker and Kafka has doubts on whether he injured someone without knowing after waking up in a park covered in blood. Connections are made and the story spirals into spontaneous but always interesting events and there is never any certainty on what’s around the corner. When you see Colonel Sanders pop up with his new line of business, you just nod and accept. It’s weird, but it fits. Nothing is ever out-of-place in Murakami’s worlds even when they ought to be.
Kafka On The Shore can’t keep up the pace though and it drifts into a half sleep in the final quarter of the book. Progress becomes incredibly minor and events seem to repeat. It’s as if the alternating chapters are the cause of this, as we have to see Kafka get up to something before we go back to Nakata and one side of the story stays stuck in limbo while the other builds up so it can connect back up with the other. It’s a shame really as the ending does have some great moments full of thought-provoking questions and slightly dubious actions, but it just drags it all out and the insanity becomes dull because it isn’t being dealt with quick enough.
But Kafka On The Shore has enough ammunition to keep you going. When the forest becomes to thick full of twigs, a tasty cliffhanger will pop up so you have to keep going. It may feel like the story is being made up as it goes along (something Murakami is prone to doing) which doesn’t always pay off, but when it does you can’t help but wish this was our reality. If I could talk to cats I wouldn’t need anyone else, though I could do without the dodgy love floating in the air.