There are some writers whose books I must immediately grab when I see them for sale at my favorite bookstore. Of course Murakami is at the top of that list. So far, I’ve reviewed two of his novels-1Q84 and Sputnik Sweetheart–as well as his excellent short story collection The Elephant Vanishes. There are a few others I’ve read prior to starting this site, such as my two favorites The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood. While After Dark won’t rank as my favorite Murakami by far, I still found it enjoyable for the compelling ways that the author brings you into the story.
It was about 4-5 years ago that I first started getting into Murakami. In many ways, I’m glad that I discovered the author at this point in my life. I don’t think teenage me would have appreciated his particular style. Over the past few years, I’ve become better read having sampled so many more writers than I did in my teens and even my twenties. Experiencing a book by Murakami is truly a unique journey from anything else you will ever read. I think After Dark works as a great introduction to Murakami newbies because it is one of his shorter works and it also tones down some of the elements of magical realism and fantasy to allow a sharper focus on the interactions between the characters. It’s a great book to get an understanding of Murakami’s unique writing style.
“Eyes mark the shape of the city. Through the eyes of a high-flying night bird, we take in the scene from midair. In our broad sweep, the city looks like a single gigantic creature-or more like a single collective entity created by many intertwining organisms.”
Murakami never ceases to surprise me. While After Dark does contain all the typical elements one might find in one of his works, it’s the presentation itself here that is different. I like to refer to this book as Murakami’s “film to book” adaptation because this story is truly like a movie being converted into novel form. This book is set within one night from a few minutes to midnight until dawn. The narration is written from an almost third person omniscient point-of-view in the form of an imaginary video camera:
“Our viewpoint takes the form of a midair camera that can move freely about the room. At the moment, the camera is situated directly above the bed and is focused on her sleeping face.”
The effect on the reader is that it keeps you as an outsider watching events unfold in real time. Every chapter is setup as a scene in a film with details such as the food the characters are eating to the background music. Of course, this being a Murakami novel there has to be a significant amount of detail given to food and music, two of the author’s passions. The result of the unique method of narration creates a window for the reader, always outside looking in and never able to directly connect to the characters. Considering this book is all about the struggles of interpersonal connections, it works well here.
After Dark is about two sisters named Mari and Eri Asai. Most of the action follows Mari as her quiet night of reading in a Denny’s is constantly interrupted by a variety of strange characters. First, she meets Takahashi a law student who is also in a jazz band. The two are connected by Mari’s sister Eri. Throughout the night, Mari becomes involved with a retired wrestler who now runs a “love hotel,” a Chinese prostitute, and a violent man named Shirakawa. Meanwhile, Eri is in a deep sleep being haunted by a mysterious man inside of a television set.
I thought the themes in this book were very interesting. Through this story about people’s activities in the middle of the night, Murakami poses questions regarding the darkness inside all of us as well as how nighttime can open the door to all manner of bizarre occurrences. These themes are nothing new for readers of Murakami, but what really impressed me was how complex he could create a story using such a simple plot. The concept of night is used to great effect in showing people literally emerging into the light. Murakami also touches on the opposing forces of connection/disconnection through the interactions of the characters.
As always, there are no simple solutions to a Murakami book. You are left to form your own interpretations and resolutions to the events that unfold. This is a writer who can definitely capture that same feeling you would get while watching a David Lynch film. I loved all of the symbolism, from the concept of night to the sleeping beauty character. Murakami is a master at dialogue and really gives us a lot to think about in regards to our relationships. This book gets my vote for the Murakami novel that would be easiest to translate into a film.
If you are a first-timer to this writer, then I suggest either this or Sputnik Sweetheart. For straight up realism, then read Norwegian Wood. You will find yourself thinking about his work long after the sun rises.