Saturday, 30 November 2013

Haruki Murakami- After Dark

After Dark
Vintage Press
Haruki Murakami
2004 (Japanese)/ 2007 (English)

Translated by Jay Rubin

“In this world, there are things you can only do alone, and things you can only do with somebody else. It's important to combine the two in just the right amount.”
After Dark was one of the first Murakami books I'd read, back during the times where I'd read through an author's bibliography relatively consecutively, and I didn't like it very much at all. Five years on, and my growing infatuation and obsession with the work of Haruki Murakami, including the need to have my own copy of each book, led me again to After Dark. This time, though, I was confident I'd enjoy it, because it's much easier to doubt the reviewing credentials of my younger self than it is to imagine that my current literary hero wrote a bad book. To cut a long story short, I really enjoyed it this time.

At only 201 pages of decently-sized font, After Dark only just escapes the 'novella' catagorisation. In truth before I just checked the number I would've guessed that it was even shorter than that. In both size and atmosphere, I'd compare it to Murakami's South of the Border, West of the Sun (one day to be reviewed), though really it's a fairly unique piece of work from the author considering both its length and the short space of time in which the story plays out. It's also written in the present tense, which is something that nine times out of ten annoys me, but here wasn't a problem because of the large amount of dialogue.

After Dark is set over the course of one night, focusing around the experiences of a small group of characters. Each chapter has a small illustration of a clock at the beginning, showing the story progressing in real-time, in a manner of speaking. The main character is Mari, an intense and withdrawn 19-year-old girl who misses her last train home and settles herself in an all-night diner with a book. Soon after she is interrupted by Takahashi, a jazz-loving (Murakami staple alert) student who recognises Mari from going on a date with her sister. As the night progresses, Mari is dragged into a series of events at a nearby low-class hotel involving gangsters and a Chinese prostitute. Segueing in between the chapters, the reader is shown Mari's sister, Ari, who two months ago went to sleep and hasn't woken up since. 

After reading this again it became clear to me that Murakami was having fun with this book. He changes his narrative tone somewhat, talking to the reader very directly in the manner of simulated stage directions, as thought this were a short movie of sorts, where he as the narrator is the omniscient god cutting between scenes. As a result, the cuts between the adventures of the main characters and of Ari, the sleeping beauty seemingly in danger from typically Murakami-esque mysterious ethereal dangers are presented in a much more direct way than the author's usual manner. 

Essentially what I feel the reader has with After Dark is a short story that Murakami enjoyed so much he extended it to a small novel. The noticeably different style of narration and the rather direct positioning of the two events occurring that night suggest to me the attempts of the author to establish the context for the mysterious existential happenings in a short space, only to find himself extending the whole narrative. Personally, I'm not entirely sure what to make of the brief flashes into Ari's strange sleep in relation to her sister's very urban, realistic experiences through the night. It's so brief and mysterious that lodged itself firmly into my brain, but without leading me to mull over it as much as I did with a novel like, say, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. It's more like a dark fairy tale, a tribute to the intangible uniqueness of the witching hours. I enjoyed it very much, though perhaps its brevity and unenlightening conclusion forces me to place it only about half way on my mental list of Best Murakami that one day I might even write.