The first Murakami book I read, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, was frustratingly obtuse and enticingly enigmatic. It was that combination of reality and the weird, of wanting to throw the book at the wall and immediately pick it up again, that ultimately made it memorable. Blind Willow is a collection of short stories, and I wondered how Murakami's style would do in a novel, so I chose Kafka on the Shore.
Unfortunately, I wasn't nearly as intrigued by this book as I was with my first Murakami foray. There are still weird elements: a 15-year-old boy, who sometimes speaks to himself in a second personality named "the boy called Crow," goes on the run; an elderly man named Nakata speaks of himself in the third person and speaks to cats. There's an unexplained consciousness-losing of a bunch of students, Johnnie Walker and Colonel Sanders, leeches falling from the sky, and a trans-man librarian. But, sustained over an entire novel where character development, not just oddity, must play a role, Murakami's writing seemed to lose something.
Kafka, the protagonist, is likeable enough, though there's far too much about his penis (always referred to as c*ck in the book, a term which I only associate with porn and found really jarring--don't know whether I can attribute that to Murakami or the English translator). In fact, the sex in the book, as a whole, is weird in an off-putting way. Oshima, the librarian, is also likeable, though like every character in the book, he is far too giving and caring without explanation. Kafka and Oshima particularly spend far too much time philosophizing and talking about how life is a metaphor.
Nakata is someone you want to root for, but his speech style becomes repetitive and aggravating, as does the "geez whiz, I just better follow you!" attitude of his sidekick, Hoshino.
I liked the novel better in the beginning as we slowly learn about the students on the hill and Nakata gets sucked into the events that happen. But by the end, so much muddying had happened that I lost a sense of connection to the book as a whole. I'm still not sure how it all fits together, but not in an enjoyable way, like with Blind Willow.
Kafka on the Shore was a disappointment, but I'd certainly like to try Murakami's fiction again, especially since I've been reading a lot about him recently with the publication of his most recent book, 1Q84.
***This book qualifies for the POC Reading Challenge.