Haruki Murakami //
In Kafka on the Shore Murakami combines a meticulous description of the mundanity everyday routine with some of the stranger things that life throws up to prepare the reader for the even more surreal events that will occur in the novel. The music the characters listen to plays a major role in the novel and provides the reader with extra (and valuable) insights into who they really are.
Kafka, the hero of the novel, is trying to escape a prophesy his father made, and in doing so comes across the the small private library of a certain Miss Saeki. The Oeidipus scenario that follows slowly unravels into a number of confusing events (you should prepare yourself for more of these), but fortunately help is on hand in the form of Oshima, the librarian, to help Kafka with the problems that ensue.
Parallel to this narrative runs the story of Nakata, an old mentally challenged gentleman who can talk to cats. Nakata is also on the run, and his help comes in the form a lorry driver called Hoshino. Together Nakata and Hoshino embark on a quest - although they don't know what for (it will later revealed to be the "Entrance Stone") or why.
As we said above, Murakami explicitly connects the characters In Kafka on the Shore with the music they listen to. So Nakata, the spiritually inclined old cathunter, doesn't listen to any music at all, and his ever so slightly stereotypical surfer brother can't distinguish between Schubert and Wagner. By listening to The Archduke Trio, Hoshino discovers that his life bears remarkable similarities to Beethoven's, a revelation that leads him to realise how deep his understanding of classical music is and motivates him to start making far reaching changes in his own life.
Kafka himself listens to pop music and jazz and identifies with Prince's lyrics. One key musical episode in the book occurs when he gets lost while listening to Coltrane and finds himself in an old, dreamy trailer park environment where time seems to stand still. Almost like he's in limbo. Which is almost like a title of one of the songs from Radiohead's KId A, which Murakami admitted he listened to a lot while writing the book. That might be a slightly spurious reference, but it's indicative of the musical mindset in which you too can lose yourself in Kafka on the Shore. As when Oshima brings up his fascination with Schubert in a conversation with Kafka. Or when Miss Saeki's musical verve deserts her, sadly depriving us of the hit song she wrote that shapes Murakami's fictional world.
The different musical genres in Kafka on the Shore all add their own particular vibe to the story. Murakami links pop lyrics to certain events, jazz to create the backdrop to certain scenes and ties character's lifecycles to classical music. In this way, it's the latter form of music that's the most intriguing in this novel, most particularly in the case of Kafka's aide Oshima. By listening to Schubert's Sonata in D, the reader can understand more deeply the special link that Oshima has with the composer and the piece of music, especially the coincidences that emerge from his story.
The many references in the story to boundaries and breaking them can be directly linked to Schubert. The analogy between Oshima's relationship with them - the use of the boundaries as an anchor after the thrill of a deliberate transgression of them - and the manner in which Schubert used them in composing his sonatas is striking. The similarities between Oshima and the first two movements of Schubert's sonata in D major lead to further development of Oshima's character based on the third and fourth parts of the sonata - think of Oshima's authority as the tone for the first part, then listen deeper, beginning with the silence that comes in the second movement, to learn more about her character.
Kafka on the Shore is undoubtedly Murakami's most musical book when you analyse the role of music itself in the novel. The music, just like the perfectly composed text, is an enchanting vehicle that can guide us through Murakami's surreal world.
text by Erik de Loor / translation by William Georgi / photo by Jaclyn Sollars