This is a tough book to rate. To say it is disturbing is putting it mildly. There are scenes of graphic, often sexual, violence that are difficult to...moreThis is a tough book to rate. To say it is disturbing is putting it mildly. There are scenes of graphic, often sexual, violence that are difficult to see. And as this is a graphic novel (graphic being the appropriate word), you do see them. Are they entirely necessary for telling to story, or just for shock value? To some extent it is shock value, and the shock and horror and disgust created by the images has an effect on the story, so I guess it is also necessary for the story to be what it is.
The format is the basic zombie/infected set up, the mass outbreak coming out of nowhere as a bunch of disparate survivors flee for their lives. These infected are not dead. Bites or bodily fluids spread the infection almost instantly, turning the victims into ravening monsters of the worst kind, powered by the desire to kill and torture and rape and eat their prey. The infection also marks their faces with a rash that forms a cross, hence the survivors name for them and the title of the book. In themselves, the crossed are nothing new; they are an embodiment of the basest evils perpetrated by psychopaths and war criminals, just like the Reavers from Serenity/Firefly. But here we are actually shown what they do.
The cross can obviously be seen as a religious reference - especially as this is Garth Ennis, who has always been obsessed with Christianity and masculinity. Is it the metaphor for an antihuman religion brainwashing people into acts of depravity? Perhaps, but this seems rather too obvious. The reddish crosses on the faces of the infected actually made me think of England football fans made up with greasepaint, an in-joke which is, I'm sure, entirely deliberate. And there are jokes, there is humanity in here, which is what makes it worth reading. The survivors have to try and keep hold of their own humanity despite the horror, despite some of the things they do to survive. At the end, the book does close with a note of hope and beauty that is achieved because of - not in spite of - the horrors we have witnessed.
So, would I read it again? No. Am I glad I read it? I'll get back to you on that. Is it well written and superbly drawn, is it gripping and affecting? Without a doubt.
However, if you are thinking of reading it, be warned. This is the sort of book that was beyond the worst nightmares of the guy who dreamt up the Comics Code Authority in the 50s.(less)
I have to confess that my attitude to this book while reading it was all over the place. At times I was...moreKafka on the Shore finished. Definite spoilers
I have to confess that my attitude to this book while reading it was all over the place. At times I was certain it was a five star book, and there were others (although rare) when I found the writing positively clumsy. The scene where Oshima reveals his true gender when confronted by the two women's rights activists fell squarely into this category, and part of the reason for this may be that Murakami does seem to have a problem writing female characters, at least in the books of his that I've read. Generally, however, I find Murakami's writing magical. The way he blends the everyday and the surreal is mirrored in his language (at least in how it is translated, which is all I have to go on); an oddly straight forwardly factual style peppered with some fantastical imagery.
This blend of the everyday and the highly metaphorical is distinctive of Murakami's work. While set in realistic situations they are highly metaphorical books, working on many levels of metaphor (meta-metaphor?), not all of which are readily apparent. Because of this I was tempted to give five stars for effort, but found the execution somewhat lacking. Partly this was because the two stories – Kafka running away from home and Nakata's quest – never really come together, either physically or in any meaningful way that I could see. The other main problem was that I found Kafka, who seems to be the central focus of the novel, to be neither engaging nor especially believable. I know that this is partly the point – Kafka is damaged and insular, but as a reader I never warmed to him in the way that the people he meets seem to do instantly. Then there is the rape. Some of Kafka's adventures are in many ways an adolescent porn fantasy – his first encounter with Takura and then his relationship with the older, beautiful and distant Miss Saeki – but his dream encounter with Sakura late in the book is increasingly disturbing, especially after all her protestations about it being wrong she obviously enjoys the act. This is a dream, of course, but dreams play a central role in the book – indeed, the phrase “responsibility begins in dreams” is repeated several times.
Okay, realism is not what this book is about. Any realism of setting is just to ground the metaphors, but for that to work relies on a certain transparency in the meanings and for me there was just too much in this novel that was opaque or didn't seem to gel together. It is easy to put this down to my lack of knowledge of the culture (and this may well be the case; my knowledge of Japan is pretty much restricted to the movies of Kurosawa and Studio Ghibli) but I still didn't get the connections and this left me feeling a little short changed. My other experience of Murakami was completely different. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was just as rich in metaphor and allusion, but the strands and surrealisms seemed to support each other and find some sort of resolution. Although not entire resolution, and there are open questions in that book that stay in the reader's mind long after it is finished. In Kafka... we seem to glimpse a closed circle, the resolution of which is in allowing time to continue, Kafka to begin to heal and grow up.
Many of the allusions seem to end up going nowhere. Early on there are lots of reference to Greek tragedy but, other than setting up the incest plot, these seem to peter out (although it did occur to me that Saeki, which I had been pronouncing “Say-key” could be pronounced “Psyche”). While Chronicle left me buzzing with thoughts, Kafka ultimately left me with more dead ends than Lost.
I don't mean to paint too negative a picture. There is much to admire and enjoy in this book. I found the other storyline far more interesting. Nakata's simplicity and honesty makes him engaging and likeable, and his relationship with Hoshino is perhaps the most satisfying in the book, perhaps because they are not directly connected to Kafka. Hoshino, indeed, is perhaps the only character we see who grows properly.(less)
This is an darkly atmospheric and episodic tale, as we follow the separate travels of a brother and sister around some uncertain part of the American...moreThis is an darkly atmospheric and episodic tale, as we follow the separate travels of a brother and sister around some uncertain part of the American South, probably in the late 19th Century. She is searching for her lost new born child and he follows, searching for her. The land is a harsh, unforgiving wilderness and the people who inhabit it often as harsh as the climate and as poor as the soil. Alternating episodes deal with encounters of the siblings on their travels. The sister, Rinthy, tends to accept hospitality from people on the way and be treated well, while her brother, Culla, more often than not stumbles into situations where he falls foul of suspicion and the pointed finger of blame for for crimes for which he is blameless - unless it is perhaps reward for his refusal to accept hospitality as he journeys, or the act he commits that sets both of them on their journey.
McCarthy weaves the tale with dazzling language, flights of metaphor and simile that bring to life the harsh world of the book. He does not worry that the language of narration is nothing that the simple, illiterate main characters of the novel could compose - or even, probably, comprehend - but merely chooses his analogies for their power and vividness (although, very occasionally, he overstretches, such as "as unfamiliar as android visitors from an alien world", which is just too far from the setting to sit right). The high language and episodic, picaresque narrative give the whole tale the feel of parable, and this is reinforced by the third storyline, the dark, murderous trio of men who occasionally cross Culla's path, setting up the eventual meeting and denouement. But if the tale is a parable, it is not one that is straightforward or easy to understand, but dark and murky, filled with uncertainty and uneasiness and thoroughly disturbing.
There is one lighter moment, oddly. On one of the occasions when Culla is falsely accused of a crime - indeed, the one for which the outcome appears most serious - the whole event quickly takes on the air of farce and, despite the imminent danger, I found it close to laugh out loud funny amidst the sombre tone of the rest of the novel. McCarthy is a writer of quite stunning power, and I'm just sorry I left it so long to make his acquaintance.(less)