As someone who saw it as perfectly feasible to take a day off school purely to read, reading books, with haste, was no issue at all.
That was until I came face to face with Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. It was Christmas day 2007, and I was fifteen years old.
Every year my Grandma asks her thirteen grandchildren which book they want for Christmas, and every year, when all thirteen of them reply with an ‘I dunno’, or a pathetic murmur which sounds strangely like ‘books are boring Grandma’, she delegates the task of choosing to someone else.
That someone else is a bookstore clerk located in the depths of a tired shopping complex in Central Gippsland - the kind where the only thing you can hear is an air conditioning system wheezing from somewhere in the damp roof. Presented with a list written in the cursive script legible only to those educated at boarding school in the 30s, the ‘someone else’ will see two columns side by side. The first will list thirteen names; the second will list thirteen correlating ages. Their task? To choose a perfectly suited book for each and every one of them.
For years I have known exactly which book I want, but I have always, and will always leave it up to the person responsible for the measured strips of tape on the folds of my gift-wrapped rectangle.
They don’t always do a good job, in my opinion, but in 2007 someone got it just right. It just took me two and a bit years to realise it.
I’m not sure that I would have chosen Murakami for a fifteen year old, but then again I get a feeling my Grandma would have interjected with something along the lines of, ‘Oh and that one actually likes books darling, make sure it’s good.’
The uncomfortably long car trip home on Christmas night is usually the time I take a moment to get acquainted with the new addition to my bookshelf. I remember looking down at the crisp white face of Kafka on the Shore and knowing that I didn’t like it. I wasn’t big on fantasy, and the way that black cat contoured its body toward me with piercing green eyes, and the quoted word ‘spellbinding’ planted on the front cover ended it for me before the story even had a chance to begin.
Over the next few months, when there was nothing better to do but soak tea towels in ice water and lie beneath the whirring of a crappy fan on my bedroom floor, I read. Bit by bit I moved my way through Kafka… with about as much enthusiasm as cleaning the shower on your birthday. It probably didn’t help that my first taste of Murakami was this very slow-moving narrative with one of the most notoriously vague endings to date.
At first I felt like I was following it: a boy was running away from home, some guy could speak to cats and then suddenly fish were falling from the sky and that was me done for another few months.
I’d pick it back up, start over, get a little further, understand a little better… Then Johnny Walker was eating cat hearts and you probably could have heard the cover snap shut from Sydney.
Month after month fell away from me, and I would throw an odd glimpse at the spine of the book I deemed ‘too weird’ shoved in between a library of other mistreated texts. I continued to power through my Penguin Classics phase of the indomitable ages of fifteen-and-three-quarters through sixteen.
Even A Clockwork Orange seemed more digestible than Murukami.
Despite these feelings, something kept drawing me back. I was desperate to know where these two plot strands would connect. I needed it to make sense.
The final time I picked up Kafka on the Shore, now crumpled, stained and still expelling remnants from a beach holiday, I wasn’t going to give up. No amount of teenagers lusting for ghosts of their possible mother or inexplicable characters answering to ‘Boy Named Crow’ could stop me. I was about to start my first year of university, I was almost eighteen, I’d had my heart broken and I finally felt ready to tackle this beast.
This time I was right. I finished it quickly with baited breath through every unexpected and unexplained cavern of Murakami’s wonderful brain. For the first time was taken aback by his ability to describe simple moments and feelings so vividly I felt motion sick.
Since finishing Kafka on the Shore my curiosity moved me on to another, and then another, and then seven other of Murakami’s texts. His alluring writing style and talent for creating absurd, resonant plots have kept me under his trance ever since.
Maybe at fifteen I was just too young. Or maybe just too guarded to allow Murakami the pleasure of dragging me down one of his twisted wormholes, too busy building up my self-conscious teen brick wall to make time for some nutcase trying to tear it right down again.
I guess I owe someone in a Central Gippsland a thank you.
Adriana Barro is a Melbourne based freelance writer with a strong interest in travel, other people's dogs and cheese. She blogs at www.adrianaclaire.wordpress.com and you can find her on Instagram at @adrianaclaire
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.