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After Dark is fictional Japanese novel, translated in to English, that I would say loosely falls within the genres of drama and mystery, with a little something extra thrown in to the mix.
It’s approaching midnight and there’s an almost empty Denny’s diner. A young girl called Mari sits reading. A musician, due to practice all night with his band, interrupts Mari’s solitude to say hello. Mari has missed the last train home and intends on staying out all night, in the city, on her own. But once the sun disappears and night falls the city is different, with mysterious undertones. The musician leaves and Mari soon gets approached from a girl from the Alphaville Hotel, a Chinese love hotel, to help with a situation.
On the flip side, the same time but a different location, we see Mari’s sister. She is sleeping in a deep sleep and has been for 2 months. Almost like a coma, but not. We see the TV flicker, but it’s not plugged in. Could the midnight hour be causing something to stir this night, or is it just imagination?
The book basically takes us across these two tangents. The former is told in present tense, giving us a sense of us watching the interactions between characters and events as they unfold. The latter is told in a rather different way, with the author talking to us as if we are watching the sister from a different perspective, like giving a commentary when watching a bird of prey through a camera.
The layout is very interesting and quite original. The story is told in the present tense and follows a ‘real time’ timeline; chapters are not split by number but by the time, as the minutes and hours tick down from just before midnight to just before 7am, so we get a more concise view of events. I felt mesmerised almost to keep reading, and this was helped by the book being broken down in to chapters of varying length, none of which I felt was too long.
The novel ‘flows’ well and feels fairly natural, making it easier to read. I would say there was a reasonable depth of characters, but this isn’t to a great extent. I don’t think I found myself particularly identifying, or feeling empathic towards, any of the characters, but I did feel some sense of understanding or familiarity with them by the end of the novel. The lack of depth is something that adds to its mysterious and ‘quirky’ nature, strengthening the growing feeling you get that you never really quite know what’s going on.
I wasn’t so hot on the ending because it’s very loose and doesn’t tie anything up nor provide an explanation for all of our unanswered questions. However, the author intended it this way and so in its own way it adds to the mystery.
On the back is further praise, including: ‘The novel delivers gloriously… Inventive and alluring’ – Guardian, ‘Hypnotic, spell-binding’ – The Times.
This is not a book for those in search of a fantastic plot, because, in all honesty, not much really happens in this book when you truly think of it. No, this is not one of those books. It's the kind that stays with you for days after finishing, still going over and over it in your mind. It's the kind that makes you stop and think mid sentence, wondering if you're truly understand what is trying to be presented to you.
The characters possess a certain air of mystery from the beginning that is never truly solved. Murakami doesn't sit you down and explain the ins and outs of all the things that occur by the end of the book. He appears to enjoy leaving you with more questions than you were probably prepared for. To this day, I have no idea why Eri is asleep, or if she will ever wake up. But I suppose knowing the details isn't really the point here.
Although I've stated that there's not much going on, there is plenty to peak your interest as you read along. The chapters are divided into the passing of time, as the story takes place within one night. I found the actual narrative fascinating, as it is phrased as though you are sitting with the author, having him describe what you're seeing directly to you; to begin a paragraph 'We are inside a Denny's' instantly caught my attention, because I wasn't expecting to actually be addressed myself.
A further element of interest is really any scene that features Eri's bedroom. I found myself slightly spooked after some of these scenes (no spoilers, I promise!), as even though there was still very little action - if any - there was such an intense atmosphere surrounding Eri and her slumber (and her TV - whoops, spoiler!). The tense really added to this, as you're being spoken to as if you yourself can see it happening. Freaky.
As seems rather typical of these books, there didn't really feel like there was any real ending. I found myself wanting to know what was going to happen to Mari and Eri, whether Takahashi was going to be successful, and especially whether Shirakawa was going to eventually get his comeuppance. Alas, I found no answers once again - reminding me vividly of Shimamoto from 'South of the Border, West of the Sun'.
Personally, I don't think anyone truly relates to the characters that Murakami creates. Perhaps you're just not meant to. His books are like a fantasy land, but with a lot less magic and twice as much mystery. Though probably not everyone's cup of tea, I'd still highly recommend this book to anyone who's interested in giving it a shot. Sometimes, I think you have to challenge yourself with your reading, and this is definitely a challenge.
"Time moves in its own special way in the middle of the night. You can't fight it."
So says the manager of a Tokyo jazz club in this darkly alluring novella by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. The plot is paper thin and almost defies explanation but Murakami's writing is so profoundly compelling that he creates something quite remarkable from almost nothing.
The action covers the period from just before midnight until that time just before dawn. Mari is a nineteen year old student who looks set to sit the night out with a book in an all night diner in downtown Tokyo. Enter Takahashi, a young jazz musician who knows Mari vaguely through her sister, Eri. The two of them talk about Eri and Takahashi seems keen to continue their conversation another time but for now he has to leave for a band rehearsal.
Some hours later a beefy, peroxide haired woman comes into the diner looking for Mari; she's the manager of a nearby love hotel and she needs Mari's help. A young Chinese prostitute has been badly beaten by a customer at the hotel; the manager has been told by Takahashi that Mari can speak Chinese and she wants her to act as translator.
Meanwhile Eri lies in her bed in a stark, almost sterile room; she has been afflicted by some unidentified condition that causes her to sleep almost continuously, waking very occasionally to eat or to use the toilet. Eerily, the television in Eri's room switches itself on and on the screen there's the image of a man wearing a plastic mask.
'After Dark' is unusual in that it mixes the very mundane with the strangely surreal. In many ways the ordinariness is rendered surreal because the action takes place at night. Although the setting here is Japan, the situations in the novel - diners, convenience stores, all night bars - reminded me of the paintings of the American artist Edward Hopper, who captured nocturnal scenes in similar environments. For the characters that occupy this night time world this is the norm. Mari frequently spends the night out, returning home when the trains start running again: life at home has been difficult since Eri became ill and it seems that Mari seeks sanctuary in places where she can be anonymous and forget her troubles. Takahashi's band rehearses at night because it's cheaper to rent the space. For Kaoru and the other staff of the love hotel, night time is business time and it's a place where those who seek to be anonymous can blend in.
The various methods of narration have an unsettling effect on this tale. An unknown first person plural voice describes the scene in Eri's room; I found this quite disturbing because the voice included me, and that made me feel complicit in some kind of intrusion into Eri's solitude as if I really shouldn't have been there. I resented the way that the use of the first person plural narration was trying to compel me to accept as truth sweeping statements as if there could be only one world view.
For me 'After Dark' works in spite of rather than because of certain elements. It's the second of Murakami's novels I've read, the first being 'Norwegian Wood' which, although the writing is unmistakably Murakami, has much more meat around the bones of the plot. 'After Dark' is more of an impressionistic piece of writing which relies on the creation of a mood rather than the development of a plot. It is heavy on dialogue but I found the (presumably intended to be) profound discussions of the characters to be pretentious and mostly boring. These intensely serious dialogues made me think of the themes covered in manga where simplistic truths are portrayed as something more important.
From a cultural point of view I loved 'After Dark'; the prose may be esoteric but it is suffused with illuminating details of Japanese life and culture. These details help paint a vivid picture of the dark underbelly of Tokyo at night; the workaholic executive, the lonely hotel worker, the exploited Chinese prostitutes. Murakami doesn't shy away from exposing some of the less appealing aspects of contemporary Japan.
I couldn't help thinking that I'd missed something in this novella. The sub plot with Eri isolated in her room didn't belong to the rest of the story, other than in the connection with Mari. For me the only 'naturally surreal' (if that can be) element of 'After Dark' was just too off the wall. I loved the feelings of surreality imposed on the detail of everyday life on the other hand; this sense of the unreal in very familiar situations gives the story a deliciously dark flavour. Once you get your head round the fact that there is very little plot it's a lot easier to accept this curious sub plot for just another of Murakami's idiosyncrasies instead of trying to explain and understand it.
If you like books that are strong on plot this probably isn't something for you. However, that's not to say that you shouldn't bother with Haruki Murakami's other novels; 'After Dark' does tend more towards the esoteric than his other writing. At a shade over 200 pages this is a book that can be devoured in one sitting and it does feel like the kind of book that needs to be read in this way. Strange it may be at times, but it is also an immensely satisfying read.
I am a big fan of Haruki Murakami's books and have read all of them at least once. I recently read After Dark for the second time. For fans it is definitely worth reading and a casual reader might also enjoy it but in some ways it is not really representative of his usual style. It is good, but not his best.
After Dark is much shorter than many of Murakami's other novels, which means that it doesn't contain as many twists, turns, flashes into other times, places and worlds as some of his other stories. Due to its brevity After Dark does not develop its characters or story in great depth. It is a simple snapshot of a few hours after midnight in Tokyo. However, it is typical of Murakami style description where he portrays people and places in a realistic, modern way including every day details such as brand names.
The reader gets a brief introduction to the main characters. Mari is a 19 year old student of Chinese who has missed the last train home and ends up spending the night talking to a musician and being drawn into an incident in a local love hotel with some colourful characters including the owner of the "love ho", a female wrestler. There is a separate strand to the story featuring Mari's sister, Eri, who has been in a prolonged deep sleep. This section is very surreal and is a stark contrast to the realistic sections out in Tokyo. The relationship between the two sisters gets more attention as morning draws closer. Each chapter is headed up by a clock, showing how time progresses throughout the book. I like the way he explores that time seems to pass slower during the night when most people are sleeping and the atmosphere he builds.
This is worth reading for the atmosphere, but if this is first Murakami you read and you are not sure what you think, I would definitely recommend trying one of his longer ones where he has more room to develop characters and story to really show off his talent.
Having enjoyed my first Haruki Murakami novel ('Dance Dance Dance') I began seeking more of his books but unfortunately university life hasn't allowed me enough time to spend reading long books at leisure as I thought. However when I came across 'After Dark' in the library at just over 200 pages I decided to give it a try since I could finish it in a night. But is this novel short but sweet?
It's a bit difficult to explain the story of 'After Dark' in a nutshell because we hop between several characters in a short space of time, but I'll try my best. Basically it focuses on night-time in Tokyo as witnessed by several characters. The main protagonist is nineteen year old Mari Asai- a shy, "darkish" (as admitted by Mari herself) student who has missed the last train home and begins the novel sitting in a Denny's, reading. She is joined by an older student and musician named Takahashi who has met her before- as a schoolmate of Mari's older sister, Eri. They soon part ways, but Mari is called to a 'love hotel' through its manager Kaoru, another friend of Takahashi's, because a Chinese prostitute at the hotel has been horribly beaten and stripped naked and Mari knows enough of the Chinese language to communicate with her. As Mari's night progresses and she makes new friends and speaks out her worries and home truths, meanwhile, Eri herself is sleeping in her room (for what has been a while) but as of midnight, she seems to enter a bizarre state of consciousness throughout the night which she might not be able to escape...
'After Dark' left me with very mixed feelings, but I shall discuss the positives first. I really liked the layout of the novel in that each chapter was labelled with a specific time in the night (e.g. Chapter 1 takes place at 11:56pm), because it made the story unique and reminds the reminder of how long the night (hence the title, 'After Dark') draws on for before the hustle and bustle of evening and the following morning's traffic. The descriptions of the traffic in the city are very detailed and Murakami brings this "witching" period (as I call it) of the night to life, definitely giving us the sense of the surrealism that makes his writing style popular in other works.
My thoughts on the characters vary, as some are much more fleshed out than others given the length of the book. For example, we learn a lot about Mari and Takahashi in their conversations toward each other. Mari in particular is a very relatable character- she is 19 years old like me and is the ignored younger sister compared to the supposedly beautiful Eri, and what appears to be simply jealousy is actually revealed to be a deep longing for a closer relationship. Takahashi is presented as a confident young man but later we learn he has quite some insecurities and even affection for Eri that he's held since high school. I also enjoyed reading about the staff of the 'Love Hotel' as Mari grows quite close to them- the conversation between Mari and Korogi is particularly revealing of both characters and is one of the best scenes in the book. However there were some characters that I felt I wanted to know more about, such as the man who assaulted the Chinese prostitute (I won't reveal his name for spoilers) has some chapters dedicated to him but his future by the end of the book is left uncertain and unjustified to the reader.
Murakami's writing style is very much worth noting. Unlike 'Dance Dance Dance' he narrates in the present tense (3rd person) and there is use of camera panning, cuts to different areas in a room and breaking the fourth wall by speaking to us readers on how we are merely observers and cannot affect the plot. It's very reminiscent of stage instructions in screenplays written for television and film. On the one hand it's an interesting technique of describing what's happening, especially when it's just one character in a scene thing and Murakami covers every little detail of movement that makes for compelling reading. However in some scenes where nothing much is happening it feels unsuitable and adding to the filler. Eri's scenes in particular mostly consist of her sleeping while something slowly begins to change in her room, with the narration going between the new event and descriptions of the sleeping Eri which don't lead to much- they're quite mundane and superfluous.
Overall, 'After Dark' isn't really Murakami's best work. Part of this could be attributed to the length, because 200 pages cannot lend itself to extremely in-depth character development and storytelling. Even so, I felt that the surrealism doesn't work that well in such a short read, especially with scenes that felt like they read to nowhere. If you're a fan of Murakami's work and/or want a short read then by all means check this out, but I wouldn't spend money on it.
(Also on Ciao under the username Anti_W)
How else to describe Murakami's unique writing style but 'quirky; bizarre yet true to life'? The style he uses for 'After Dark' is certainly no exception, yet as a piece of writing it could just as easily be described as exceptional.
Explaining what this novella-it's 200pages long- is about could be difficult, as it is at risk of sounding mundane. Coming from any other author it might well have been, but Murakami is the storyteller extraordinaire.
It's set between the hours of midnight and 7am one night in the other city that never sleeps- Tokyo. Mari, a girl of 19, is sitting in a coffee shop reading a thick, non-descript tome of a book and sipping unconsciously at her cup of coffee when a young man of her age walks in and, recognising her, sits down at her table. It transpires that at some point in the past, he had a connection with Mari's sister, Eri, and that Mari and the boy, Takahashi, still remember one another.
After their brief meeting they part, but the stories of the three intertwine as the night progresses. Takahashi leaves for an all-night band practise, while Mari is appealed to for help by a woman who owns a love hotel in the vicinity. She has heard from Takahashi that Mari speaks Chinese, and she needs a translator for a Chinese prostitute who's been beaten up on her premises.
Despite the semi-surrealism of the whole story, the most surreal element of all is the strand of story belonging to Eri, who has fallen into a deep sleep from which she only wakes for long enough to eat or use the toilet. We are told by the narrator what is going on in her bedroom that night- the TV switches itself on, but all that is on the screen is an empty room with a man sitting on a chair. It is evident that this man can see into Eri's bedroom from inside the TV, and soon things become even weirder!
I'm not sure whether I should be more impressed by Murakami's writing or by the way in which Jay Rubin, as translator, has rendered the original work. I can only assume that he stuck closely to Murakami's original style, and that they are therefore due equally high praise for their efforts.
Mostly the story is narrated from an ordinary third person perspective, but Eri's part is narrated in a very unusual style- the narrator talks in the first person plural, as if we were all there in the room watching e.g. 'we allow ourselves to become a single point of view, and we observe her for a time.' I found this very effective, given the situation being described.
The style of writing, whilst completely unique, is fortunately still very easy to follow, and makes for some very enjoyable reading.
On top of this, the characterisation is also very good. Murakami seems to like telling stories about female protagonists, and he does this very well. While they may not come across as completely convincing women at all times, they are portrayed as very real, very interesting and complicated characters. I think that Murakami's talent lies not necessarily in his portrayal of the opposite sex, as with Douglas Kennedy, for example, but in his ability to penetrate the human psyche and to reveal it in all its glorious beauty and ugliness. Reading his stories, and this one in particular, makes me think that any doubts or weaknesses or fears that I might have are not solely my own, but are shared by the vast majority of human beings, which makes his writing quite reassuring!
'After Dark' is also an interesting read if you want to know more about Japanese culture, and the dark underbelly of Tokyo's culture in particular. While there are many wonderful aspects to Japan, Murakami is also not afraid to reveal the corruption and other darker aspects at work in his native country. A good example of this is the culture of love hotels, where people can pay by the hour to go and have sex in one of a number of themed rooms, prostitutes not provided! This sounds like a good idea in theory, but what 'After Dark' reveals is the sex trade involving the exploitation of Chinese women (sometimes seen as an inferior race in Japan) which runs alongside it. He merely touches on this, and does so objectively, but what he says is enough to make you think, at the very least.
It's often hard to know how much can be drawn from beneath the surface of what Murakami writes. Here the metaphysical blends seamlessly with the physical, as people's images continue to move inside mirrors after they've left the room, and Eri is left to sleep next to a TV which appears to show another reality, despite it being switched off. I wonder if there's anything to be gained from searching for a deeper, hidden meaning in his writing.
Perhaps it's best just to enjoy it for what it is. And enjoy it you will, almost certainly.
Midnight approaches, yet the city continues to moan, a sound "pregnant with foreboding ... the district plays by its own rules at a time like this. The season is late autumn. No wind is blowing, but the air carries a chill. The date is just about to change."
Haruki Murakami's short, sweet 2004 novella opens four minutes shy of midnight, where a young girl sits alone in a fast-food restaurant over a book, unwilling to return home. Elsewhere, her sister sleeps an unnatural, seemingly endless sleep - and as the clock ticks past twelve, the unplugged television in the corner of her room begins to flicker and come to life. A young man with loose connections to both girls enters the restaurant and across the city, several other initially unrelated strangers enter a sleepless night in Tokyo.
Richly evocative of the clashing worlds of bustling city and peaceful sleep, After Dark (Afuta Daku, originally) features many of Murakami's trademark flourishes, boiled down into 200 pages that whisk by. Unexplained surreal phenomena, inter-related vignettes, estranged siblings and lost strangers who find solace in each other are all to be found here, each touched by the peculiar mystique of the city after dark.
Less than half the length of his full-sized novels, Murakami doesn't have quite the time here to saturate his story with his characters' personalities as he did in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles or Kafka on the Shore. Because of this, and because of his emphasis on the dark being a curtain behind which all manner of fly-by-night, peripheral figures move, we never really get to know the protagonists intimately. Even Mari, our central character of sorts is something of an elusive individual, and of the others involved we get only snapshots.
This, though, is strongly (and strangely) effective. At its core, After Dark narrates the course of Mari's night awake and away from home, and the fractured glimpses we get of her serendipitous encounters enhance the sensations. The men and women involved; the musicians and businessmen, retired wrestlers and disorientated prostitutes - they are all passing ships in the night, characters who would never run into each other in the clarity and normality of day.
Despite the limited time they get to make an impression, the characters are nonetheless intriguing, mysterious and above all, intensely real. Murakami writes wonderfully believable dialogue, and in writing a novella which circles around meetings of strangers, has created page after page of delicious conversation, in turns lucid and halting, confident and hesitant, always full of personality. Plot-wise, the reduced scale has similarly boiled down the depth of the story, but all the weirdness and curiosity of the author's other books is here. These, for once, are perhaps not the strongest part of the story - while the chance meetings and late-night encounters lend themselves well to short-and-sweet, Murakami's journeys into oddity seem to need more time and space to assert themselves.
After Dark is memorable not so much for any particular plot thread or character as it is for the feelings and sensations it generates. Murakami evokes subtly the contrasts of a city in which everyone is supposed to be sleeping, but so much is happening, just as he does those between the sister lost in sleep and the one wandering Tokyo, intensely awake. This isn't his most affecting book, admittedly - it lacks the grand, sweeping plot of his other novels - but it's an impressive demonstration of the incomparable talents of one of the best writers around.
In his most recently published work of fiction, Haruki Murakami returns to the heady blend of juxtapositions of the real and the surreal that is his calling card in the world of modern fiction. Murakami writes the sort of intelligent fiction that seems almost effortless, although this is no doubt far from the truth. His novels frequently seem to force our world into competition with a second 'shadow' world, where the magical bleeds into the normal at the fringes of our perceptions of daily life.
In this gritty slice of late night life, he weaves together the lives of city dwellers as they are brought together by circumstance. Mari has missed the last train home and doesn't want to be there anyway, where her beautiful sister Eri sleeps as if in a coma with no explanation. Takahashi has missed the last train too, but will happily play all night with his band until a chance encounter with Mari starts of an unexpected chain of events. A dangerous sociopath beats a Chinese prostitute, the main protagonists explore their memories and a brooding presence seems to threaten Eri through the static of a television that isn't even plugged in..
Beautifully evoked as ever, Murakami manages to make a veritable hymn from the weird and writes another work that is both haunting and transformational. Set over a mere seven hours, he shows the impact of cause and effect and the consequences that arise from even a chance meeting.
The storyline has a wonderfully cinematic quality to it and some of the tropes used wouldn't seem out of place in a Korean movie.. Murakami seems to be aware of this, as he chooses to move away from the surreal by the close of the book and ends with a simple demonstration of tenderness from one sister to another.
I've greatly enjoyed this book and will be returning to it in the next couple of weeks. Like all Murakami books, it deserves another read.