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"Kafka on the Shore" - Lunchtime Lit with Mel

Mel Carriere graciously thanks you for your stamp money, which he uses to finance his lunchtime reading habit and resulting book reviews.

Brand new Lunchtime Lit lunchbox for 2017, same old authors

Brand new Lunchtime Lit lunchbox for 2017, same old authors

Mundane Murakami Memes

Internet memes abound about Japanese author Haruki Murakami. The subject of most of these is how he is always the bridesmaid, never the bride, in the Nobel Prize hunt, sitting anxiously by the phone with a Cutty Sark in hand, waiting in vain for word from the Stockholm committee.

They show him exchanging an empathetic embrace with Leonardo DiCaprio, another frequent nominee with no wins until recently, when the actor reversed his own Chicago Cubs curse by finally grabbing the Oscar. They display Murakami in near-compromising positions with cats, who cough up their sticky hairballs across the pages of his novels. There are memes about how he loves to bare his rather uninspiring torso in long-distance running because when he runs, he doesn't have to talk to or listen to anybody else talk.

I have seen Murakami memes in English, French, and particularly Spanish. Spain is the country in which Murakami's Nobel loss to musician Bob Dylan seems to have particularly struck a nerve. Only in his native Japan do people seem to not really care about Murakami.

As for myself and my son, whose books I always abscond away with despite his futile protests about how I stain and sully them over the course of my Lunchtime Lit readings, we have our own in-house set of Murakami memes. We laugh about how his mundane and humorless characters do oddball things like cook spaghetti for breakfast. We get a kick about how one mundane character spends endless mundane pages sitting on her back patio, reading mundane Proust while waiting for another equally mundane character to show up via some unbelievably mundane plot twist.

When push comes to shove, however, we are always on board for the next mundane Murakami book because there is something inexplicably riveting about his mundaneness.

But can the author of Super Frog Saves Tokyo be worthy of Nobel Prize consideration? That is another mundane question for another mundane day.

Summary of the Humdrum Haruki Happenings

In Kafka on the Shore. 15-year-old Kafka Tamura runs away from home before he can fulfill his prophesied destiny of killing his father and having sex with his mother. On a hunch, he flees to the seaside city of Takamatsu, where he lives and works in a library. Kafka does not know it, but it is in Takamatsu that he will fulfill his Oedipal curse.

Meanwhile, Mr. Nakata, an illiterate, apparently autistic old man who can actually converse with cats, also journeys to Takamatsu after killing Johnnie Walker, an evil cat killer. The latter looks just like his whiskey bottle namesake. Apart from inducing chronic alcoholism, Johnnie Walker has foul designs on humanity. Although he doesn't know it yet, Takamatsu Nakata must find Kafka, whose destiny is linked with his own, obtain a device called the entrance stone to let some unknown something through, then close it before another unknown something can get out.

If it sounds weird, it's because it is. Weirdness abounds in all of Murakami's books, which are sometimes labeled as "magical realism." Enshrouded in this weirdness are other intertwined themes that Murakami recycles throughout his novels, and I will analyze those squashed aluminum cans here.

Invariable Murakami motifs can fit on one bingo card.

Invariable Murakami motifs can fit on one bingo card.

Isolation and Searching: Badass but Boring Heroes

Murakami's heroes generally either a:) have no friends or family, b:)have abandoned their friends and family on purpose, or c:) have been abandoned by their friends and family. Although these characters appear slightly disappointed by this state of affairs, they don't seem to be in a real big hurry to do anything about it. However, a mostly accidental search eventually does take place.

The result is a rather lackluster quest to cure the main character of their loneliness, even if said character doesn't particularly mind it. In The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Toru Okada looks for his missing wife. In Kafka on the Shore, Kafka Tamura is seeking his mother. In 1Q84, Tengo Kawana searches for both his mother and lost love, while his lost love Green Bean is on an equally uninspiring search to find him.

When the Murakami hero finally gets off his ass to do something, he rarely gets off his ass. In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the hero engages the forces of evil while dreaming at the bottom of an empty well. In Super Frog Saves Tokyo, unconscious Katagari helps Frog battle a foul, earthquake-inducing worm burrowing beneath the Japanese Capital. In Kafka on the Shore, catspeak translator Mr. Nakata sinks into days-long sleeping sessions during which he receives revelations about how to save the human race. Murakami isn't exactly the king of the gun-slinging action hero. His good guys are a rather lethargic bunch - bad-ass for sure, but boring.

Nobel neglected Murakami gets a bro hug from fellow prize-deprived Leonarado DiCaprio.  The DiCaprio curse has now ended, but will Murakami ever get his medal?

Nobel neglected Murakami gets a bro hug from fellow prize-deprived Leonarado DiCaprio. The DiCaprio curse has now ended, but will Murakami ever get his medal?

Bizarre Business Between The Sheets

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Murakami was a finalist for the slightly less prestigious Bad Sex in Fiction award, doled out by the British Literary Review. To keep things PG-13 here, I won't go into any explicit detail about the sex acts Murakami depicts in the pages of his novels. Suffice it to say that they are borderline weird. Furthermore, his characters don't get busy between the sheets purely for the sake of amusement or love. Instead, there is always a vaguely ritualistic purpose behind the carnal acts. Murakami sex opens up a portal with a parallel world; it is used to disseminate the biological seed vicariously through an intermediary, and it cleanses people of spiritual impurities.

In Kafka on the Shore, Mr. Nakata's friend Hoshino must have sex with a beautiful prostitute in order to prepare himself for his procurement of the entrance stone, which will be used to save the world. Later in the story, Kafka Tamura engages in a highly taboo sex act for no reason other than to fulfill a prophecy that his murdered father made. Murakami does not condemn or apologize for this often unsavory intercourse; we are simply asked to accept it as a necessary part of the plot resolution.

In addition to writing dozens of novels, Mr. Murakami also maintains a love advice page that seems to feature cats and sheep.

In addition to writing dozens of novels, Mr. Murakami also maintains a love advice page that seems to feature cats and sheep.

Cats: Murakami Feline Fetish?

As a mailman of 23 years, I can tell you that on every Postal route, there is at least one cat lady. Cat ladies own, or are owned by, upwards of dozens of cats. In one of these cat lady's houses I know of, the felines even come and go as they please through an open bathroom window.

Not surprisingly, some of these cat lady's homes smell like cat pee, a rather unredolent aroma with a distinctive eau de ammonia that does not evoke pleasant images. On some cat lady properties, the odor is pervasive and suffocating.

I would not be surprised if Haruki Murakami's home reeks of cat piss. Although he is not a cat lady, he is certainly the masculine equivalent. I'll wager that when Murakami's mailman goes to the author's door, he has to plug his nose or breathe through a mask.

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle springs into action when a cat runs away from home. In 1Q84 Tengo reads a story to his comatose father about a town of cats where a wayward human must hide from the felines by night and emerge by day to go about his activities. In Kafka On The Shore, not only do cats play a significant role in the plot, it is actually a speaking role, exchanging cat pleasantries and preoccupations with Mr. Nakata, who is fluent in their raspy tongue.

If Murakami's cats can talk, why not read?

If Murakami's cats can talk, why not read?

Ghostly Genji Goings-on

Haruki Murakami has been called a very non-Japanese author by certain critics among his countrymen. This accusation is made based upon his glorification of Western music, philosophy, and literature.

But Murakami also leans heavily on The Tale of Genji, which some experts identify as the world's first novel. Genji is a voluminous endeavor written by an aristocratic Japanese woman around 1021 AD. The book describes Japanese courtly custom but also exposes its period's popular mythology and superstition.

Among other themes, The Tale of Genji contends that spirits are spawned from both the living and the dead, the living bringing about ghostly hauntings through the power of their intense emotions. We see this in Kafka On The Shore, when Kafka's love interest, Mrs. Saeki, produces a wraithlike specter of her younger self that haunts the main character in his room at night. Also, in Kafka, significant activity occurs at uniquely Japanese Shinto shrines, a sign that Japanese culture plays as much a role as the author's Western references.

Not being Japanese, perhaps I am not qualified to say this, but could Murakami's works delve into the Japanese juxtaposition of East and West better than those of critics who accuse him of not being faithful to his homeland? Maybe Murakami grasps the dichotomy of two highly different cultures that do not touch but lay atop one another like parallel Universes.

"That's what's called a living spirit. I don't know about in foreign countries, but that kind of thing happens a lot in Japanese literature. The Tale of Genji, for instance, is filled with living spirits. In the Heian period-or at least in its psychological realm-on occasion people could become living spirits and travel through space to carry out whatever desires they had."

— Haruki Murakami - Kafka on The Shore

Conclusion: Under a Misty Murakami Moon (Or Two)

After reading this review, you might be asking yourself why this mailman didn't quit deviating down side streets and just deliver Kafka On the Shore? The truth is, Murakami stories are interchangeable. You review one, you review them all. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

To be precise, the proof is in the pudding, chocolate jello pudding that I frequently spill on the pages I review to my son's severe chagrin. The numbers don't lie. To date, I have reviewed 3 Murakami books for Lunchtime Lit. This represents a full 30% of the total. If Murakami is so slow-moving, why do I keep coming back?

The answer could be that Murakami reads at the pace of life. Each novel is a miniature existence of its own, perhaps taking place on some parallel plane, subject to its own unique laws of physics. The Murakami reader is an explorer into this strange new universe and anxiously forges ahead to discover what the facts about this world truly are. The fact that the facts are never fully revealed makes the exploration even more satisfying. The Murakami Universe is a fascinating place to hang out, to listen to Bach or Beethoven on the back patio while reading Chekhov or Proust under a two-moon sky.

Or just maybe I return because the Murakami books are sitting there so temptingly upon my son's bookshelf, ready to steal and stain.


Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on November 03, 2017:

Hey Vagabond, I apologize because I have fallen out of the Hub Pages loop completely. Sometimes a pothole in your life can send you off the rails. Yes, I did read The Satanic Verses. I loved it. One of these days I want to read more Rushdie.

Vagabond Laborer on September 25, 2017:

Sounds like Murakami is a real believer in magical realism in his novels. I fancy it in Salman Rushdie's novels. Have you read any Rushdie?

By the way, hi Mel!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on February 06, 2017:

Yes Lawrence, there are cosmetic differences between us and other cultures, but the surprising thing that Murakami reveals is that all people are fundamentally the same. We share the same joys and the same fears. Thanks for reading!

Lawrence Hebb on February 03, 2017:

Sounds like an 'interesting' book. Different cultures have different views of the world, sometimes it's good just to get an idea of how another culture sees things.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 15, 2017:

Linda, these books make you wonder if Murakami knows something we don't know. They are definitely uncharted territory for most people. I appreciate you dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 15, 2017:

My favorite is Wind-up Bird, Mons, but maybe that's because it was the first one I read. Good luck on your Murakami adventure. I appreciate you dropping in!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 15, 2017:

This review is intriguing, Mel. It's a very interesting piece of writing about books that sound strange but definitely worth investigating.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on January 15, 2017:

First time to hear of Murakami. Must confess, I have been a lazy book reader of late. If reading one is reading all, I shall at least get one:).

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 15, 2017:

Bill I think I like these books because I read them in half hour chunks. They may not be suitable for marathon reading sessions late into the night, though my son is often awake until the wee hours reading such stuff. I think this experiment in lunchtime reading has expanded my horizons a bit. Thanks for dropping in.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 15, 2017:

Let me be perfectly honest with you, Mel. You read a lot deeper stuff than I do. Most of these books you mention I read in college, but only because I had to or I thought I should to become a true intellectual. LOL Boy oh boy, did I ever fail there. Now I read pretty basic stuff for enjoyment, and anything that strains my brain it pushed aside.

That was a long-winded way for me to say I'm impressed by your reading list.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 14, 2017:

Kafka on the Shore is a good place to start, Venkatachari. I have read three Murakami books and one short story to date. The other books you mentioned I have not read yet. I think you're in for a treat. Thanks for dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 14, 2017:

Well, A Christmas Story is my wife's favorite. She watches it on continuous loop every holiday season. I can see some subtle social commentary there. Thanks Mills.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on January 14, 2017:

It's a wonderful review of Murakami's literary world. Even though I haven't yet read his books, I went through the summaries of 3 of his books which I have presently- Kafka on the Shore, Wonderland The end of the World, Blind Willow Sleeping Beauty which I am yet to read. I have many books of different authors and read only a score till now.

Now, I am very much eager to go through his books immediately and find what is in there for me after seeing this review of his works.

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on January 14, 2017:

Shepherd didn't write novels, but he published four short story collections. Some of these stories became the basis for A Christmas Story. Those were among his very best pieces. Later ones were a little heavier in tone than the humor he'd made a bit famous. I hope this explains Shepherd a little better.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 14, 2017:

Mills, you stumped me on Jean Sheperd, Now I have another writer to investigate for possible future lunchtime activity. I appreciate your contribution and the tip. I'll ask my literature loving son if he's heard of him. Maybe I can trick him into buying one of his books, so I can steal it.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on January 14, 2017:

Hmm....marked me has spam have they? Sounds like some sort of Russian conspiracy :) I actually had a spam and tomato sandwich for lunch, so maybe that's it. I will take your wise advice and look for "Wind-up Bird." Oh, and if you want to borrow my phone book you are welcome. We still have one delivered to our door each year. At least one with Australian names would be a more diverse read for you :)

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 14, 2017:

Thank you Larry. Being a proponent of magical realism as you are, you should try it. But I'm not sure I buy the magical realism tag, because it leans too far into Stephen King territory. I appreciate you dropping in!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 14, 2017:

The cover art for 1Q84 is beautiful and mysterious, Paintdrips. You should give it a whirl. Murakami hasn't ruled out writing a 4th tedious volume to it, and I would be on it like a cat on tuna. Thanks for reading.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 14, 2017:

The phone book would be my current literary endeavor, Jodah, if I could find one. Those hefty tomes full of Nobel Laureate quality work have gone missing since the advent of the Internet.

If you want to try Murakami, try Wind-up Bird. It's only 400 some pages so if you don't like it it won't take too much a bite out of your life. It also covers a very interesting phase of WWII that has been largely ignored, that being the Russian-Japanese land war in the east.

Your compliments really puff me up. I thank you very much, but why did HP have you marked as spam? Is it because you used the dreaded term "phone book?" Does HP think you are advocating going off the grid?

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on January 14, 2017:

I guess Murakami for you is what Jean Shepherd was to me. Neither was always good, but they have a way of drawing interest to their work. Thanks for sharing another lunchtime experience.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on January 14, 2017:

I did read this and already commented, Mel. It said my comment had been submitted but awaiting approval from the author, but it still hasn't appeared. Anyway, I loved this review. Weird, you made the book and characters sound so unappealing but have drawn me in and now I have to read at least one of Murakami's books just to say I have. Admitting my ignorance here as I have never heard of him before. great job.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on January 14, 2017:

Wonderful review.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on January 14, 2017:

Whatever keeps us sane.... sometimes we have to try the insane to be sane. Great review. I stumbled on the IQ84 only as an artist listening to the fellow artist who designed the cover. I couldn't quite understand what he was saying about the other worlds until you have explained it. Now it sort of makes sense. He said he wanted the letters and numbers to be a window into that other world.



John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on January 14, 2017:

Well, I will reveal my literary ignorance here, Mel, and admit I have never heard of Haruki Murakami, his books or memes. That said, I found this review fascinating.

He sounds like one weird dude but you made the books sound intriguing. I now am convinced I have to read one just to say I have experienced Murakami. The funny thing is that not much about the book actually sounds appealing but it's very strangeness is drawing me to it.

Of course, you could write a review on the phone book and make it sound worth reading.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 13, 2017:

Blind faith only makes you stumble in the dark. Maintain your quick wit and healthy cynicism and once we make it out of never never land we'll be ready to face reality, but not if I can help it.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on January 13, 2017:

Mel, you always remind me to look deep and say "who is the constituency or congregation". I am a blind follower of that that is Mel.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 13, 2017:

Especially tough in the border towns between parallel Universes. The Sprung Valley will bounce back, I'm sure, like it always does.

Stoned cats tilting at windmills is an amusing image that I will savor for a while. I always took you for something of a psychonaut, but I see now it was all in the interest of science.

I really appreciate the clergy checking in. Have a sunny weekend, friend.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on January 13, 2017:

Why does this guy sound like a mix of Miguel Cervantes and Edward Abbey? Since my wife will already be pissed that I have washed the boy, cooked dinner, done laundry and vacuumed because I was savoring every word here. I might as well tell a story. When I enrolled in college at 17, I came upon a psychologist/sociologist professor who insisted we stretch boundaries. So a year later in his advanced class which was just that sociology mixed with psychology for my final I took 3 days off from reality. I met with a shaman- for us natives, a medicine man - he concocted for me just the right amount of Peyote tea to last 3 days. And I wrote thoughts for 3 days as I ebbed and flowed out of reality. The result was a hundred page A+++ with a letter of rec. for graduate school.

I am still waiting for my gonzo journalism Award.

Please do not miss a beat in giving us these wonderful expose's on writings and writers.

Loved it.

Three killed here in Spring Valley today about a mile away. Drugs and gangs no doubt. Border towns are tough.