2021 Book Reviews VII
My time in London has been hectic, but I finally found time to finish three more books! In between Klara and the Sun and Breakfast of Champions I briefly dabbled in a couple of other books before putting them back down again - Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus which I quickly realised would have a detrimental effect on my mental health and Wabi Sabi by Beth Kempton which veered too close to cultural appropriation for my liking.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
A friend who studied literature at university recommended I read some Murakami years ago, but it wasn’t until I was absolutely blown away by Burning, a Korean film based on a novel by Murakami which was so good I would rank it above Parasite. That made the choice to finally read some of Murakami’s work a trivial one, and Kafka on the Shore seemed as good a place to start as any. Actually, when I read The Metamorphosis by Kafka, it was in case familiarity with Kafka’s work would be necessary context for Kafka on the Shore - to save you the same trouble, dear reader, I can assure you that all you need is a vague understanding of who Kafka is in order to fully appreciate the novel that now bears his name.
I went into this book with very few expectations - I knew Murakami was incredibly highly regarded, and from what I’d seen of Burning I had presumed that the novel would be a) cerebral and b) weird, but I was not prepared for quite how weird it was going to get. It sort of crept up on me, about halfway through, and then I was completely hooked. I don’t want to spoil the particular flavour of weirdness, and would encourage prospective readers to do as I did, and try to go in as blind as possible.
This book is hard to pin down, but I adored it. Murakami explores coming of age and coming to the end of one’s life, finding love and losing it again, being rooted firmly to the earth and existing in a parallel fantasy universe, and of course with savage murder, all with scintillating care and attention. It’s a masterpiece, and a serious contender for my favourite book that I’ve read so far this year.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
I chose to read Klara and the Sun in a pretty different manner to the way I usually choose books to read - it was recommended in a Goodreads newsletter. I read the précis and was in the mood for some science fiction, but couldn’t muster the courage to begin the long voyage through Dune so decided Klara would do. The fact that Kazuo Ishiguro (or should I say, Sir Kazuo Ishiguro - incidentally he also shares my birthday) is a Nobel laureate made the decision final.
I enjoyed Klara - reading it was a pleasant experience, particularly as I read the majority of it while lying splayed upon Brighton Beach. The story is well told and the near-future world of robo-friends that Ishiguro conjures up seems remarkably plausible. I think perhaps I missed some nuance of the book though, I feel like the book only scratched the surface of the hidden dangers of the technological advances contained therein, and the plot was ultimately a touch predictable. I would recommend it if you’re in the mood a modern take on some light sci-fi - think less ray guns and matter transporters and more AI butlers and flying cars - but I had had slightly higher hopes for this one.
Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut is in serious danger of becoming my answer next time I inevitably get asked who my ideal dinner guest, alive or dead, would be. After the deep discomfort I felt while reading Slaughterhouse-Five was similarly intertwined with an overwhelming desire to continue reading, I was keen for more Vonnegut but thought it best to tackle one of his at least ostensibly more light-hearted works. Bizarrely I couldn’t find a Kindle version of Cat’s Cradle, so Breakfast of Champions it was.
It should be said that while Breakfast of Champions is light-hearted at face value, the more I thought about it the darker it became. Vonnegut uses a wonderfully absurd sense of humour to illustrate just how absurd the real world is, once you’ve left his fantasy realm and returned to it. He seems almost at peace with the sheer ridiculousness of everything - both of himself and of the truly sickening depths of human nature. This is clearly a book that is speaking out against many of the ideals of patriarchal, white supremacist Western society, even if Vonnegut’s vehicle for derision might seem not unlike a whimsical children’s tale.
This book will make you smile, then it will make you think, then it will make you sad. Vonnegut’s absurdist satire of the topics he deals with come very close to giving off the impression that he’s given up hope that anything better is possible - writing strange and silly novels seems to be the only thing he thinks might move the dial, despite him knowing it’s unlikely. Everything else seems to have failed, and Vonnegut seems weary of the world, instead trying to find some amusement in it, so he might at least enjoy himself while everyone else suffers. Perhaps it’s not a surprising position for him to take given his veteran status. The book is also a banger, and you should read it.