Saturday, May 31, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: After Dark by Haruki Murakami

I find myself thinking about Murakami's books long after I've read them. Murakami compares writing to jazz music and with his writing it is true. Just as I find myself humming memorable bits from songs like Take Five, I also come back again and again to passages of Murakami's novels and short stories. I don't always recognize the deeper meaning in his works right away, but like a piece of music his writing continues to work on me over time.

After Dark takes place in Tokyo between the "witching" hours of midnight and dawn. The nighttime setting lends itself to the loneliness and alienation of the characters. We are never drawn too close to these characters, but instead we watch and listen, along with the narrator, as though through a camera as it zooms in or out and then pans around at times giving us mere glimpses of the wider setting. The story is told in scenes of dialogue between six characters within segments of sequential time. Mari is a 19 year old university freshman who perceives herself as plain and dull, especially compared to her beautiful older sister Eri. Mari has for some reason, known only to her, decided to stay up all night reading at a Denny's. She is joined several times throughout the night by Tetsuya, a young jazz musician. Mari is unexpectedly drawn into the lives of a large female ex-wrestler who now manages a "love hotel," a Chinese prostitute, and two women with mysterious backgrounds who hide under cover of night and transient jobs.

These scenes are interrupted occasionally as we, the camera, look in on Mari's older sister Eri who sleeps. Her sleep is reminiscent of that deep and complete slumber of Sleeping Beauty. Several months previous to the night our story takes place, Eri announces to her family that she is "going to sleep for awhile"; she has not woken since. On this particular night she is watched by something or someone menacing. Eri has withdrawn completely and may or may not find her way back. We are not sure if she is being controlled by the menacing presence or if her continued slumber is by choice. The scenes with Eri are eerie and unexplained.

Much in this short novel is left unexplained. In one of the more magical scenes, an image of a man wavers, his outline bends, quality fades, static rises. Murakami's story is very much like the image of this man. We can't always see clearly what it is that the author is showing us. I don't think this is an accident or poor writing. I believe Murakami does this intentionally and the reader must look for meaning in a less cognitive way. As the author says through his character Tetsuya,

"You send the music deep enough into your heart so that it makes your body undergo a kind of a physical shift, and simultaneously the listener's body also undergoes the same kind of physical shift. It's giving birth to that kind of shared state."
Murakami's works are very much a shared state. Not everyone will find his writing to their liking, but those who can resonate with the author will find themselves coming back for more.

Rating: 4 out of 5

More Murakami: "Understanding Murakami" my post about Murakami; "Jazz Messenger" essay by Murakami in the NYT Sunday Book Reviews

Note to other reviewers: Let me know if you've written a review of After Dark or other Murakami works and I'll add a link to your review in my post. Please leave the permanent URL to your review in the comments.

Other Murakami reviews:
Books 'N Border Collies (Lezlie): After Dark
My Own Little Reading Room (guatami tripathy): Kafka on the Shore
In Spring it is the Dawn (tanabata): Kafka on the Shore, After Dark
Things Mean a Lot (nymeth): Kafka on the Shore, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Stainless Steel Droppings (Carl V.): After Dark
Bibliophile by the Sea (Diane): After Dark
A Book Sanctuary (Tracey): After Dark


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  2. Great review! I find myself thinking about Murakami's books long after I've read them too. I'm looking forward to reading After Dark but since I just finished Kafka on the Shore I think I'll wait a bit until the next time I'm in a Murakami mood and to give Kafka time to stop rattling around my brain.

  3. "I don't think this is an accident or poor writing. I believe Murakami does this intentionally and the reader must look for meaning in a less cognitive way"

    I completely agree. I've been missing Murakami lately, and great reviews such as this one are to blame!

  4. tanabata, I'm so glad to find other Murakami fans. I agree with you about needing to leave space between Murakami reads.

    nymeth, It was reading the Kafka on the Shore reviews lately that got me needing a Murakami fix!

  5. Thank you for the great review, Terri. I am looking forward to giving Murakami a try one of these days.

  6. Thanks for the link to my review, Terri!

    "ting continues to work on me over time." I so look forward to that experience. I'm sure that will be the case with me as well.

    This is one of the few books that I have read that leaves some things unresolved that still feels like a complete story. I generally don't enjoy the open-ended narrative...unless it is just a really good book. In Murakami's case it is just that. What I have read so far is so good that I don't mind the eccentricities of the endings.

  7. Thank you for such a perceptive review. I finished After Dark a few days ago and am still thinking about it now. There were parts I didn't understand but overall I just loved it!