One item in my endless list of pet peeves is when I come across a blurb or book review that compares an author to Franz Kafka, because the main thing about Kafka, to me, is that there is, and was, no one like him at all. Kafka was a very odd duck. His stories are a strange combination of humor and terror, but critics tend to focus on the latter, ignore the former, and accentuate his pervasive strangeness borne from his deeply felt sense of alienation. To me, there is no difference between Kafka the person and the stories he wrote, and for a work of fiction to be like Kafka, the writer would also have to be like him. You can smell a counterfeit almost instantly. His unique eccentricities were authentic, never cooked up for effect.
It always makes me pause to begin a book by a writer who has been compared to Kafka. I know it’s not (always) their fault that this association has been made, but it still makes me nervous. I recently had this unfortunate experience with a book by China Mieville, who was also compared to Orwell and Raymond Chandler, and who seemed to me to have nothing in common with any of the three except for the fact he used words to convey a story.
Yesterday I came across a story on line by Hiraku Murakami, a writer I’ve been meaning to get to reading for several years now. I quite enjoyed the story (which I linked to in this blog), so I downloaded a sample of his ‘Wind-up Bird Chronicles’ from Kindle, enjoyed that sample, and was about to buy the whole book when I looked him up on Wikipedia and sure enough, there he is being compared to Franz Kafka! “Oh no!” I cried in my best Mister Bill imitation. “Why do they have to do that? This guy is nothing like Franz Kafka. Sure, there’s an element of absurdity. Sure, there is a male first person narrator. Sure, he seems to have issues with women (apparently they all have to be “slim and lovely”) And sure, he writes fiction. But come on. Really, people? Franz Kafka?”
Well, I bought the book anyway and I’m enjoying it despite the ominous reference to that certain author. I hope to continue to enjoy it. I would just like to make a public plea, to any of the four or five people who will ever encounter this blog post, that if you ever feel inclined to compare a writer to Kafka, please, for God’s sake, think twice.