I had an interesting experience while reading the trippy Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami. I was about three-quarters of the way through it, and the main character is taking a literal and metaphorical plunge into a deep, unexplored woods. I’m reading along, and suddenly it hits me: this is my book! Now, in most ways they are completely different— I don’t have Colonel Sanders or Johnny Walker Black as characters, nor does my book feature a man who talks to cats, and mine is set in Las Vegas, not Tokyo— but in the fundamental message of Murakami’s book, the underlying tone of sadness and loss, in what it’s trying to convey, it shares a subterranean current with This is How It Begins. At least to me, it does. It’s like what my book would be had it been written in an alternative world by a 60-year-old Japanese surrealist writer.
And yes, would that it would sell so well…
As for the book itself? I’m not sure where I stand. It’s certainly trippy, wildly inventive and compelling, but as it went on I found myself getting a little impatient with it. I kept vacillating between fascination and incredulity, especially when it started veering from psychological metaphysics to straight fantasy. It’s the trouble I had with the heaven bits of The Lovely Bones. The final revelation was at once too concrete and unsatisfying. At first read, anyway. I wonder if some of it has to do with my lack of knowledge on Japanese culture—perhaps there were references that seemed far out there that are common knowledge in Japan. Or maybe it was the translation.
I remember thinking while reading the book, “If this were a graphic novel, I’d have no trouble buying what’s happening.” I think maybe I give a lot more suspension of disbelief to graphic novels, where they are already one step removed from reality.
Still, the book is intriguing enough for me to keep twisting it in my mind weeks after I’ve read it, trying to arrive at a conclusion that makes sense. And many of the images— the stealer of cat souls, the downpour of leeches, the entire class that falls asleep in the woods at the same time—they’ll stay with me for a good long time.
I’d love to hear from anyone who’s read the book— what the hell’s going on at the end?