Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Jay Rubin
Publisher: Vintage Books
Publishing Date: April 2008
Number of Pages: 244
Genre: Contemporary, Surrealism, Speculative Fiction
“A sleek, gripping novel of encounters set in Tokyo during the spooky hours between midnight and dawn, by an internationally renowned literary phenomenon.”
I was introduced to the wonderful world of Haruki Murakami by my friends a couple of years ago. I was apprehensive then but my curiosity got the best of me and I purchased my first Murakami, 1Q84, way back in 2014. It was a painstakingly lengthy novel and it was quite a challenge navigating the narrative. The thing that overwhelmed me about the book is its elements of surrealism.
However, my experience with 1Q84 didn’t stop me from reading his other books. I have since then purchased and read some of his notable works like Kafka on the Shore, Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Colorless Tzukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. It is always a challenge reading his works but his works keep on getting raving reviews, especially Kafka which I wasn’t really able to appreciate. However, I have decided to reread Kafka. In the meantime, I indulged with one of his shorter works, one that I purchased this yea. This is also my first Murakami in over a year.
So what happens in Tokyo after the sun has set?
Mari Asai was alone on her own corner of a famous cafe when a stranger, well not totally a stranger, approached her and struck conversation with her. Takayashi Tetsuya, the stranger, tried to refresh Mari’s memory of their first encounter a couple of years before. Mari ignored him at first the same way she was oblivious to everyone who passed by her. But her icy reception didn’t daunt Takayashi’s adamantine resolve and eventually Mari began answering his questions. What began as an awkward conversation between two seemingly unrelated strangers turned into a wonderful night of adventure, music and revelations.
Fortunately, After Dark is not as challenging as Murakami’s other works that I have read and mentioned above. The story is more straightforward even though each chapter opens with a clock portraying the passage of time. The story taking place in real time did help in my appreciation of it as well. I had a better grasp of this book than with Murakami’s other notable works. This made me realize how badly mistaken I was in starting my Murakami journey with the complex 1Q84. 18Q4 was riddled with numerous surrealistic themes that I wasn’t fully able to grasp.
This book is relatively shorter compared to the other Murakami works I have read but the impact was nonetheless the same. But as they say, old habits die hard. In After Dark, Murakami still used his signature surrealism although it was to a limited extent. Through his signature style, he made transported the readers between the land of dreams and reality, the realms of fantasy and reality. Murakami never fails to elude to his background of magical realism, something that I admittedly find confusing at times.
In Mari, Murakami was able to portray yet another memorable character. Mari created an escapist reality in order to run away from the things that are shackling her to the ground. Over the course of the story and through Takahashi, she was finally able to unveil these feelings that has long been kept in cognito from the eyes of the public. As the night draws closer to morning light, Mari began understanding her feelings toward the issues that hounded her and her existence. The same is true for Takahashi as well.
After Dark is a deviation to Murakami’s usual surrealism-laden story-telling. Murakami worked more on evoking the senses of his readers. By focusing on the central characters, After Dark explores human emotions as the main characters, especially Mari, dealt with both current and past challenges. Mari’s emotional floodgates were slowly opened up as the darkness drew closer to the morning light.
On a darker note, the book dealt with the industry of prostitution that thrive under Tokyo’s blinking lights. At first I found this a bit absurd and unusual, interjecting a seemingly unrelated topic into a straightforward narrative that has been flowing quite nicely. But in the end, I have surmised that this is a free-flowing story that explores the world in between the night and dawn. This interjection is a proof that even in the dead of the night, life moves in a constant motion and it doesn’t stop even when the rest of the world is asleep.
After Dark is generally a light read. It deals on a person’s own views and emotions on the current circumstances. It explores the views of the main characters and reflects on how they deal with the circumstances that are before them. There was also a beauty in witnessing how Mari and Takayashi are drawing closer to each other as light slowly began replacing the darkness that has once enveloped their adventures together.
Overall, I enjoyed the book which is kind of a surprise to me considering my history with Murakami’s works. Its numerous facets have combined to give the reader a different feel of Murakami’s genius. It is partly whimsical, partly surreal, and partly romantic, in just the right way. The way Murakami evoked emotions through Mari and Takayashi is just a beauty. Although, as always, Murakami left the narrative hanging in the end, this is perhaps his only work that I have fully appreciated.
Not recommended for those who are used to Murakami’s trademark of outlandish story-telling and those who are expecting a wide array of surrealism and fantasy.
Recommended for those who wants to be initiated into the world of Haruki Murakami. This is a great starter before taking on his more complex works like 1Q84, Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. I also recommend the book for those who are seeking light reads.
About the Author
Born in January 12, 1949 in Kyoto, Japan, Haruki Murakami has written his way up to the top echelon of today’s literary world. Although both his parents taught Japanese literature, the young Murakami grew up influenced by Western and Russian music and literature. Because of this fascination with Western literature, he was able to distinguish himself from other Japanese writers. Murakami studied in Waseda University where he also met his wife, Yoko. With mutual consent, they have decided not to have any children.
It was at the age of 29 that Murakami began writing. His first novel was Hear the Wind Sing which was inspired by a baseball game and was published in 1979. The succeeding year, he published Pinball, 1973. It was his third novel, A Wild Sheep Chase that has earned him critical success. This was followed by even more success with the publication of Norwegian Wood, a book about loss and sexuality. This marked the point of no return for him as his works began gaining nationwide, and eventually, international acclaim. He has also won awards like the Yomiuri Literary Award (for The Wind-up Bird Chronicle), the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the Franz Kafka Prize and the Asahi Prize.
Aside from writing, Murakami has cemented his reputation as a serious marathon runner and triathlon enthusiast. He even completed an ultramarathon, a 100 kilometer race, in Hokkaido, Japan. He related his experiences in running in his memoir titled What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. He is currently residing in Tokyo.