Haruki Murakami ‘After Dark’ Review

We live two different lives [1]

murakami

Japanese author, Haruki Murakami’s After Dark is best taken in with a serving of sleep deprivation and to be devoured in those same nocturnal hours that After Dark occupies, letting the sleep starved mind meander with a free form jazz like experimentation of Murakami’s work into a surrealist vision that is shrouded in mystery.

Murakami uses Tokyo’s entertainment district, as a structure to blend the surreal with the mundane to form a balanced piece of magic realism. This neon landscape, sculpted by Murakami forms ‘a single collective entity created by many intertwining organism’[2] almost organic in its nature as it becomes a character in of itself that underpins the central figures much akin to the tone of Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation[3] meets a David Lynch style surrealism.

Following the tropes of magic realism, this is a world located between reality and the abstract qualities of dreams. Once again the leitmotifs of duality that Murakami explores in other works, such as: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World[4] and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,[5] are at work here. Trapping the character’s likeness in mirrors, even after they have left the room and a sinister supernatural presence dwelling inside a television, which gives precedent to an alternate spiritual plane beyond the confines of reality. The lines of logic and reason are blurred as the passage of time continues until the inevitable dawn with the city itself resembling the character’s traits of duality from their day time counterparts.

In After Dark Murakami takes various angles of perspective that provides the reader opportune moments to close inspect the narrative world by using the perspective of a camera, scoping a scene in a very direct and sentient way.

Our viewpoint takes the form of a mid-air camera that can move freely about the room.[6]

This technique takes in the plights of the characters and their various interactions, over the course of one night in metropolitan Tokyo, whist the narrator’s passive voice provides a basis to guide the perspective of the scene, much like a director, whilst maintaining this observational distance from the characters, allowing space for their own personality to guide the reader into surveying the scene for themselves.

In a brief overview, we are introduced to Mari, a reserved figure, keeping to herself, as a patron of a Denny’s, sipping coffee and smoking between reading. Her self-imposed alienation and deliberate anonymity, is interrupted by a conveyor of chance-interactions instigated by Takahasi: a trombone wielding student on the precipice of giving up on his dream to pursue law. We learn that he is an acquaintance of Mari’s older sister Eri, a once outgoing model, narcissistic in her nature, opposed to that of her sibling ‘the elder sister, Snow White; the younger sister, a little genius’.[7] We find Eri to be trapped in a two-month deep sleep that is described as ‘too pure, too perfect’[8] and appears to be haunted by a man whose face is covered by shrink wrapped plastic, obscuring his face, and is located inside her television. This television serves as a nightmarish portal into Eri’s room, the consequences of its existence could be grave, with Murakami specifically highlighting its significance early on and drawing our attention to it ‘[s]omething is about to happen in this room. Something of great significance’.[9] This provides a distance between Mari and Eri, for no discernible reason, with Eri’s chapters highlighting the duality between them, these moments bring attention to how the two sisters are both metaphorically and literally out of touch.

There is also the portrayal of the seedier underbelly of the night, ‘love hotels’ and a view from the manager of such an establishment coercing with a beaten Chinese prostitute / unsavoury businessman, and how all of these characters become entangled at various points of the night.

After dark delivers Murakami’s unique voice and diHstinct qualities of cinematic metafiction by the direct nature he moulds description with short sentence structure that pack details hinting at a subtext of something deeper by which the reader is implored to explore, Murakami does this with the use of first person plural; used as a tool for intimacy at selective moments to intrude into the character’s lives leaving enough room for a sense of ambiguity and mystery to linger.

Through the eyes of a high-flying bird, we take in the scene from midair […] our line of sight chooses an area of concentrated brightness and focusing there, silently descends to it – a sea of neon colours.[10]

This technique can be viewed as something that comes off as more of a jarring read to some, with Ben Dooley arguing: ‘Murakami has nothing to say. Nothing of any real significance, at least’.[11] Admittedly, this could be frustrating for those craving a definitive formulaic approach, or those who find the tying up of loose ends as imperative to the reading experience. However, I believe that the true significance is found within the character development and their interactions throughout the course of the story. Imbued with metaphor and a precise view into the human condition, the utilisation of an eclectic cast of characters, spun by Murakami’s signature delivery, adds a quality to this Novel that is unobtrusive and provides the grounds to read beyond what is being presented. It is this openness that is appealing to me, as the, providing the option to delve deeper into the subtext of the narrative and of ourselves. After Dark spotlighting the metaphysics of a world that somewhat mirrors that of reality and sentiments that we have an affinity to.

.

[1] Haruki Murakami, After dark (London: Vintage, 2008) pp.62

[2] Ibid,.3

[3] Lost in Translation, dir. by Sophia Coppola (Focus Features, et al, 2003) [Film].

[4] Haruki Murakami, Hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world (London: Vintage, 2001).

[5] Haruki Murakami, The wind-up bird chronicle (London: Vintage, 1999).

[6] Haruki Murakami, After Dark., pp.25

[7] Ibid., pp.57

[8] Ibid., pp.26

[9] Ibid., pp.30

[10] Ibid., pp.3

[11] Ben Dooley, Rootless detachment: A review of after dark by Haruki Murakami (The Millions, 2007),

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