by Haruki Murakami
translated by Jay Ruben
2004. 2007 (translated).
Genre: Contemporary, Japanese Literature, Surrealism
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
A sleek, gripping novel of encounters set in Tokyo during the spooky hours between midnight and dawn.
Mari, a 19-year-old student, is spending the night reading in a Denny’s. There she meets Takahashi, a trombone-playing student who loves Curtis Fuller’s “Five Spot After Dark” song on Blues-ette; Takahashi knows Mari’s sister Eri and insists that the group of them have hung out before. Meanwhile, Eri is being watched in her sleep by someone sinister.
Mari crosses ways with a retired female wrestler, now working as a manager in a Love Hotel (whom Takahashi knows and referred to Mari), a Chinese prostitute who has been beaten and stripped of everything in this same love hotel, and a sadistic computer expert. The story takes place in a world between reality and dream.
First Sentence: Eyes mark the shape of the city.
After Dark was my catalyst for discovering the wild and surreal world of Haruki Murakami. When I first read it back in 2010, I was only accustomed to reading stories that had a straightforward plotline, climax, and resolution. All in a neat little package. Murakami has since taught me an entirely new way to read. Here is the review I wrote back in 2010 after my first time reading it.
A good friend of mine recommended this author to me a while back. This is the first of his novels I have read and it most definitly won’t be the last. After Dark is a very short read, but it’s a perfect companion to a hot cup of oolong tea when trying to cure a night of insomnia. The translation is very simple and very detailed. Murakami’s writing style has a poetic uniqueness to it. His use of symbolism and his talent for creating unexpected parallels is remarkable!
If you’re looking for a novel that goes by the basic formula of climax followed by solid conclusion, then this book probably isn’t for you. The story leaves the reader with many unanswered questions and the story is over before the climax really ever begins; but it didn’t make it a bad book in the least. I look forward to checking out the next Murakami book.
After reading it a second time, present-day 2018, I have a little more to say. I have read many more Murakami novels under my belt now, as he has become my favorite author. When I started reading this time, I didn’t go into it looking for a solid plot and conclusion. In truth, you just can’t do that and expect to appreciate the full experience of Murakami’s work.
After Dark uses a unique point of view as the narrator actually speaks to us in terms of what “we” are seeing. “Through the eyes of a high-flying night bird, we take in the scene from mid-air.” We, the reader, take the form of an almost ghostly presence, able to move around observe freely, but not able to interact or intervene. We first observe the city of Tokyo from the perspective of the night bird. The city is described as a single living breathing entity that’s pulsating with the lives of its inhabitants serving as the arteries that keep its blood flowing.
From the very beginning, After Dark is filled with metaphors that challenge the reader to see things in new perspectives and make connections that might not at first seem to fit. There is a lot of dualism represented in the story. The nightlife of Toyko is a completely different world from daytime life. The world in the mirror is another dimension separate from the real world. Dreams and reality exist side by side as day and night do, separate entities, yet there is only a thin wall that separates them. In the story, Takahashi makes the comment:
“I started seeing it like this: that there really was no such thing as a wall separating their world from mine. Or if there was such a wall, it was probably a flimsy one made of papier-mache. The second I leaned on it, I’d probably fall right through and end up on the other side. Or maybe it’s that the other side has already managed to sneak its way inside of us, and we just haven’t noticed.”
So there are all of these different worlds at play. They starkly contrast each other while at the same time, mirror each other as well. And the inhabitants of these worlds? You can see the isolation that each of the characters feels, and yet all the while, they are all connected to each other in the same circuit.
While it is true that we are left with unanswered questions at the conclusion of the story, I don’t think those questions were meant to be answered. I will even go as far to say that answering those questions directly would take away from it. The story is not meant to go any further than the dawn of a new day, and we all know that the world does not stop at that point, it only continues.
In conclusion, Murakami’s style is a great way to train your brain to connect the little things into a bigger picture. I like to think of it as brain exercise. And once you read more and more of his work, you start applying this new way of perceiving things into your own day to day life. You look at the little things that seem ordinary and insignificant at first and begin to make these subtle little connections. And then you realize that it’s all part of something more.
“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.”
“The ordinary-looking ones are the most dangerous,” says Kaoru, rubbing her chin. “They carry around a shitload of stress.”
“If you really want to know something, you have to be willing to pay the price.”
“You know what I think?” she says. “That people’s memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive.”
Reality spills through her slim fingers like the sands of an hourglass. Thus time is by no means on her side.
“Are you asking because you really want an answer?”
“I have been told I’ve got a darkish personality. A few times.”
Takahashi swings his trombone case from his right shoulder to his left. Then he says, “It’s not as if our lives are divided simply into light and dark. There’s shadowy middle ground. Recognizing and understanding the shadows is what a healthy intelligence does. And to acquire a healthy intelligence takes a certain amount of time and effort. I don’t think you have a particularly dark character.”
“I do feel that I’ve managed to make something I could maybe call my world…over time…little by little. And when I’m inside it, to some extent, I feel kind of relieved. But the very fact I felt I had to make such a world probably means that I’m a weak person, that I bruise easily, don’t you think? And in the eyes of society at large, that world of mine is a puny little thing. It’s like a cardboard house: a puff of wind might carry it off somewhere.”
“Let me tell you something, Mari. The ground we stand on looks solid enough, but if something happens it can drop right out from under you. And once that happens, you’ve had it: things’ll never be the same. All you can do is go on, living alone down there in the darkness…”
And her sleep was too long and deep for that: so deep that she left her normal reality behind.
“Wherever the intention of each might lie, we are together being carried along at the same speed down the same river of time.”
“Sometimes I feel as if I’m racing with my own shadow,” Korogi says. “But that’s one thing I’ll never be able to outrun. Nobody can shake off their own shadow.”
“If only I could fall sound asleep and wake up in my old reality!”
“Her pupils have taken on a lonely hue, like grey clouds reflected in a calm lake.”
“I mean, the ones on trial are not like me in any way: they’re a different kind of human being. They live in a different world, they think different thoughts, and their actions are nothing like mine. Between the world they live in and the world I live in there’s this thick, high wall. At least, that’s how I saw it at first. …I became a lot less sure of myself. In other words, I started seeing it like this: that there really was no such thing as a wall separating their world from mine. Or if there was such a wall, it was probably a flimsy one made of papier-mache. The second I leaned on it, I’d probably fall right through and end up on the other side. Or maybe it’s that the other side has already managed to sneak its way inside of us, and we just haven’t noticed.”
“Tell me something, Mari—do you believe in reincarnation?”
Mari shakes her head. “No, I don’t think so,” she says.
“So you don’t think there’s a life to come?”
“I haven’t thought much about it. But it seems to me there’s no reason to believe in a life after this one.”
“So once you’re dead there’s just nothing?”
“Well, I think there has to be something like reincarnation. Or maybe I should say I’m scared to think there isn’t. I can’t understand nothingness. I can’t understand it and I can’t imagine it.”
“Nothingness means there’s absolutely nothing, so maybe there’s no need to understand it or imagine it.”
“Yeah, but what if nothingness is not like that? What if it’s the kind of thing that demands that you understand it or imagine it? I mean, you don’t know what it’s like to die, Mari. Maybe a person really has to die to understand what it’s like.”
“Well, yeah…,” says Mari.
“I get so scared when I start thinking about this stuff,” Korogi says. “I can hardly breathe, and my whole body wants to shrink into a corner. It’s so much easier to just believe in reincarnation. You might be reborn as something awful, but at least you can imagine what you’d look like—a horse, say, or a snail. And even if it was something bad, you might be luckier next time.”