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Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami (2003) 505 p.

a complete and utter load of wank

Japanese storytelling, I have decided, is fundamentally different from Western storytelling. I’d never read a Japanese book before this, but I’ve watched plenty of anime and played hundreds of hours of Japanese video games. The most striking difference I have noticed is in characterisation. Characters in Japanese stories are unbelievably emotive, spilling out their deepest feelings at the drop of a hat, without any hint of reserve or subtlety. Here is a conversation Chris and I had while playing Metal Gear Solid 3:

EVA: When I’m riding, the wind hits me so hard that it hurts. The pain keeps my mind off the pain of having to be someone else…
CHRIS: Oh, Christ. Strap yourself in.
EVA:…It’s not easy always fooling myself like this. It’s only when I’m on the bike that I’m free to be the real me. I only get off my bike when I fall in love… or fall dead.
CHRIS: (shakes head in sheer disbelief)
MITCH: “Metal Gear Solid 3: Cheesy Dialogue!”

Every time a character opens their mouth to say something, you’re guaranteed at least one golden nugget of corniness. In a video game, this phenomenon isn’t so bad – I’m too busy snapping Russian necks or shooting down helicopters to care. Likewise in anime, where you have pretty pictures to look at and it doesn’t seem to be so pronounced anyway; in fact, it’s almost entirely absent in Akira and the works of Miyazaki. In a novel, of course, there’s nothing but the story. And so the corniness has nowhere to hide.

Kafka On The Shore is the story of Kafka Temura, a young boy who runs away from home and ends up living at a library, and Satoru Nakata, a mildly retarded senior citizen who is sent on a bizarre quest by a man dressed like Johnnie Walker (who, I kid you not, is harvesting cats’ souls to craft a magical flute). I don’t know whether it was the translation barrier, or an underlying cultural difference, or just the plain truth that this book is terrible, but I hated every page of it.

The Metal Gear Solid dialogue quoted above is a perfect example of the kind of typical Japanese rubbish Kafka On The Shore regularly spews out of its vile hatch. 90% of the text is a tedious introspective monologue, and the other 10% is characters discussing how much they like certain literature or classical music. One particular character, Oshima the librarian, seized every opportunity to turn a conversation into some pretentious remark on the human condition, spouting out wave after wave of ultimately hollow profundities.

The plot itself is nonsensical, poorly paced and had me actually growling aloud at the book to “shut up” while I was forcing myself through its last few hundred pages. I don’t want to read about a man sitting there talking to a rock, I don’t want to read about Kafka’s constant descriptions of his dick, and I don’t want to read about endless mysteries that are never resolved. This book has loose threads hanging out of it like the tentacles of a jellyfish, quite ironic considering that it quotes Anton Chekhov’s line that “if in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, in the following one it should be fired – otherwise don’t hang it there.” Kafka On The Shore has an unfired pistol on virtually every page, being held by a character blathering on about life and love and existence in dialogue far too wanky for me to even bother following. This is the first and last Murakami book I will ever read.

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