little surprises

When I was a kid, my sister and I attempted watching a film version of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. It was whatever version was out in the ‘90s, and I have the impression that it was aired on TV quite regularly (not every month or something, but every so often it was on again).

It is definitely possible that my memory does not serve me correctly on this, but my first attempt to watch this probably did not last beyond ten minutes. To be fair, I would have been quite young, and the storyline was unlikely to have interested me much. After this, I don’t think I would have gone past a second or third attempt.

Fast-forward through twenty years or so (give or take), and I never had any intention of reading the book either, such was my unfavourable (albeit prematurely formed) opinion of the story. At least, that’s where things stood at the end of last year. Continue reading

The Idiot

Last week I finished reading Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. I think it took me about four months to finish it — not just because it’s a difficult book, but because I haven’t had a lot of time and energy for reading, which, in itself, is a shame.

This is not the first Dostoevsky I’ve read, but it’s the first I’ve read in over ten years. I read both Notes from Underground and The Grand Inquisitor while I was still in high school, and found it fascinating (or so my notes at the time say), but my reading tastes went in other directions, and didn’t return to classic Russian literature until I picked up Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina a couple of years ago.

Although I tried to allow a bit of space between these two tomes, my mind is naturally going to compare the two. This, of course, might be quite unfair, especially since I rank Anna Karenina as one of the best novels I’ve ever read. Continue reading

on the edge

Imagine, if you will, a line on a page that starts at point A …and then goes all over the page in random directions – sharp corners and smooth curves, unexpected twists and sudden turns. A line that moves unpredictably, even moving off the page, in three dimensions, like the most extreme and most impossible rollercoaster you can imagine. And, like a rollercoaster, the line eventually returns to point A, where it started. And you enjoyed the ride for the most part, but the journey was almost beyond belief.

That’s pretty much how I feel after reading Haruki Murakami’s ‘Kafka on the Shore’. I thought I’d read some pretty weird and random novels in the past (e.g. ‘The World According to Garp’) but this was on another level altogether.

I was initially quite excited to find a copy of KOTS at the library, and even more excited to start reading it. I’m not really sure why, but I just felt like this was going to be an important book – a significant and meaningful story. Well, I certainly can’t say that I was disappointed. It’s definitely a rather deep, philosophical and thought-provoking read.

At times, when I was most immersed in the book, it felt like it was slowly, subtlely changing my way of thinking, making me look at things differently, so that I see significance in minor details, while realising the unnecessary attention and emphasis given to things of little import (in the grand scheme of things). It’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s almost like the surreality (not sure if that’s actually a proper, accepted word) of KOTS seeped into the real world.

But, being honest (and I’m always honest here), I’m not entirely sure of what I’ve taken away, or what I’ve learnt, from reading KOTS. I actually don’t really fully understand the point of Kafka’s journey (as I said, it was like a crazy rollercoaster that finished where it started). And then there’s the other characters – Nakata, Hoshino, Oshima, Miss Saeki – and the interplay between them all. They sometimes seem too convenient to the story, especially how Oshima and Miss Saeki take Kafka in, and how Hoshino randomly decides to tag along with Nakata to help him out just because he reminds him of his grandpa.

I feel like maybe I could decipher it all if I went back through the book and really thought about it and deconstructed everything, but I also feel like part of the profoundness of the book arises from this confusion and mystery. I’m also thinking that perhaps the story feels important because it always seemed like Kafka was doing important things. But it’s not that straight-forward (KOTS is most definitely not a straight-forward book) because, as I said, he just returns to point A in the end. So was it really that important?

I’m not even sure that this post is making much sense. I reckon the books I read influence how I write (whether these effects are far-reaching or short-lived is another matter) and maybe KOTS has left my mind a bit disjointed.

While I was still reading KOTS, I wrote down some words to describe the story: abstract, bizarre, “interesting”, thought-provoking, etc. I think “thought-provoking” is the best descriptor – not just because it has made me think about life, but because I spent a lot of time wondering what the heck was going on. It was one WTF moment after another. There were also some unanswered questions at the end, so if you like having all loose ends neatly tied up at the conclusion of a story, then you might not be too fond of KOTS.

This was my first Murakami novel and, I think, the first novel I’ve read that’s been translated from Japanese. I reckon I’ll always have reservations about reading translated texts, but until I have the mental and temporal capacity to learn Japanese, French, Spanish, etc (or re-learn for Japanese), I’m afraid I have to trust in other people’s interpretations (or otherwise miss out on incredible stories like this one). I consider Japanese to be quite an eloquent and beautiful language, and I think that this preconception made me feel like the English translation didn’t do the story justice. There were several occasions when I paused during my reading and wondered if some of the nuances had been lost because, despite the scope of the English language, there are still feelings and concepts that we don’t have words for.

I did try to ignore the fact that it was a translated version but it wasn’t as easy to do as with other translated novels I’ve read (e.g. ‘The Angel’s Game’). Nevertheless, in the end, I almost feel like the juxtaposition between the simple – well, not simple per se, but not-as-nuanced language – the contrast between that and the complex nature of the subject matter actually kind of worked out well. But, you know, who am I to say that the translation wasn’t wholly accurate?

I reckon ‘Kafka on the Shore’ is one of those novels that could be discussed for hours on end – if only I knew people who have read it. As with ‘The World According to Garp’, I wish I could recommend KOTS to everyone, but I’m not sure if many of my friends would actually enjoy it. I suppose if you like to be challenged by what you read, then try ‘Kafka on the Shore’, or try any Murakami novels. I’m definitely keen to read more of his works.