I expected something strange and surreal from this novel, and I got it! Starting out with Kafka Tamura “the world's toughest fifteen year old” as he runs away from home, moving in with him into a secluded and private library where he can read to his heart's content, and fantasise that his new friend, the remote head librarian, Miss Saeki, might be his long-lost mother... while at the same time spiralling through the wilder narrative of Nakata, an elderly man who can't read or write, but who can talk to cats, trying to turn himself in for murder and having his attempted confessions dismissed as dementia... it is complicated, it is weird, but it great fun to suspend disbelief and just go for a ride with the author...
"So you can talk, huh?" the cat, a black and white tabby with torn ears, said a bit hesitantly as it glanced around. The cat spoke gruffly but seemed nice enough.
"Yes, a little," Nakata replied.
"Impressive all the same," the tabby commented.
"My name's Nakata," Nakata said, introducing himself. "And your name would be?"
"Ain't got one," the tabby said brusquely.
"How about Okawa? Do you mind if I call you that?"
"Well then, Mr. Okawa," Nakata said, "as a token of our meeting each other, would you care for some dried sardines?"
"Sounds good. One of my favorites, sardines."
Nakata took a saran-wrapped sardine from his bag and opened it up for Okawa. He always had a few sardines with him, just in case. Okawa gobbled down the sardine, stripping it from head to tail, then cleaned his face.
"That hit the spot. Much obliged. I'd be happy to lick you somewhere, if you'd like."
Multiple story lines, fantasy elements, unexplained mysteries and metaphors abound... it's like reading a dream... neither easy or comfortable but phew what a rush!!! Themes? Isolation... whether it is possible to be master of your own fate... metaphysics, metafiction, metamorphoses... all very vague but what can you say about a book where fish and leeches rain from the sky, UFO's cause a group of school children hunting for mushrooms to lose consciousness, amazing sex is experienced with a ghost who knows you are asleep, where Johnny Walker cuts open stray cats to eat their hearts and collects their souls to make flutes, and Colonel Sanders attempts to restore order to the universe by pimping a philosophical prostitute ...
"It's not something you can get across in words. The real response is something words can't express."
"There you go," Sada replies. "Exactly. If you can't get it across in words then it's better not to try."
"Even to yourself?" I ask.
"Yeah, even to yourself," Sada says. "Better not to try to explain it, even to yourself."
It's a novel that draws you in, takes you over and makes you part of itself for a while. You don't understand where, or why, or even how... but the dreamlike otherwordliness of it all leaves you asking – can't you just dwell in the strangeness for a while? Suspend yourself and just observe? do you really need to understand?
“It’s as if when you’re in the forest, you become a seamless part of it. When you’re in the rain, you’re a part of the rain. When you’re in the morning, you’re a seamless part of the morning. When you’re with me, you become a part of me.”
As the author himself explained in an interview,
"Kafka on the Shore contains several riddles, but there aren't any solutions provided. Instead, several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It's hard to explain, but that's the kind of novel I set out to write".