on December 28, 2012
After Dark is a moving novella that shows every last person we meet has a story from their lives that we wouldn't believe. It also shows how, even if we don't realize it, our actions can have a profound and lasting effect on those around us. Murakami does a great job of showing individual men and women's psychological complexities, and also boiling them down into simple dialogue. That, to me, is one of this novel's biggest strengths: each character is shown in their highs, lows, and "shadowy middleground," as one character puts it.
After Dark also shows the importance of family, as well as how complicated different family situations can be. Murakami does a great job, in this novella, of examining different moral situations along with different choices we face in life without judgement. This is a book showing the beauty and pain of every day, or gray, situations.
I think this novel goes a long way in showing how different, and yet similar, life can be for different people. One of the main examples of this is the nineteen year old prostitute that Mari speaks with. Both characters were the same age, but living very different lives. I found it really moving how Mari looked at the Chinese girl.
There are a lot of metaphysical quips in this book. To me, these literary devices are used, in most situations, to show different character's psychological complexes played out in concrete language and images. One example is when a character is looking the mirror, thinking that he is just fading away, and doesn't have a clear sense of identity. Then he walks away, and his reflection is still in the mirror after he's gone.
To me, this shows that, even though we don't usually think of ourselves as offering any important or lasting prints on the world around us, we, as individuals, leave a mark, somewhere between the spectrum of good and bad.
Eri didn't think she was close with her sister, but Mari had very powerful memories of her in the elevator. To me, this book is trying to show that our actions have real consequences, and we influence the people around us more than we may think.
It's normal for an individual to see their faults, regardless of their validity. The way different characters comment on each other's lives shows that each person has more to offer than they themselves think.
Another thing After Dark does is raise compassion for the people around us. I think it's normal, in our daily routines, to look past people doing this or that. Murakami, with this novel, tries to show that every last person we meet, or don't meet, for that matter, has a story that would surprise us.
After Dark isn't a masterpiece, but it's a great novel looking at coming into your own as a person, and seeing how complex the world around you is.
on November 6, 2015
[Note to readers unfamiliar with Tokyo: There are a couple facts about the city that one must understand for this book to make sense. First, while Tokyo is a city that’s always moving, the trains don’t run between roughly midnight and five am (your results may vary by station.) Second, because many people live far out in the suburbs and the cost of living is high, taxis aren’t an option for much of the population. These two facts add up to a slew of business for those industries that cater to the population caught out “after dark” (i.e. after the trains stop running--not after sundown) including: all-night diners, love hotels, c-stores, bars, pachinko parlors, bowling alleys, and manga bookstores.]
This novel takes place in Tokyo during the wee hours of a single night. Murakami satisfies a form of voyeuristic impulse by giving us a peek into the lives of a few of the people out and about while the masses are home slumbering, or—at least--whiling away insomnia-ridden hours in the privacy of their own homes.
The protagonist is a young college student named Mari. As she sits in a 24-hour Denny’s reading, Mari immediately triggers curiosity. She isn’t typical of the disheveled, boozy, or garish crowd out “after dark.” In a post-witching hour world of drunken salaryman, micro-miniskirted hostesses, tattooed yakuza gangsters, and nightlife-savvy travelers, the bookish young woman stands out. We soon learn that Mari didn’t miss the last train on accident, but rather is staying out all night on purpose to be out of the house. This further raises the level of intrigue.
In the Denny’s, Mari is approached by a gregarious young man named Takahashi who is grabbing a quick snack before going back to his nighttime hobby of jamming in a jazz band. Takahashi introduces himself as someone who already knows Mari from a party. He’s a couple years older than the young woman, and was a classmate of Mari’s sister, Eri. The party at which he met Mari was mostly attended by kids the age of Eri and himself, and Mari was just along for the ride with her more popular sister.
Eri is another major character in the book, although her mysterious presence is mostly in a sleeping state. Eri, unlike the plain Mari, is drop dead gorgeous, and has been doing modeling jobs since she was a child. Takahashi is but one of the young men infatuated with Eri—though we get the feeling that Takahashi realizes that Eri isn’t in his league. He’s a pragmatist—if begrudgingly so. The rest of the book hinges on this chance encounter between Mari and Takahashi.
Suspicions that the grim hours of circadian disruption are the domain of crime and vice are confirmed when a bulky former female wrestler turned love hotel manager, named Kaoru, rushes into the Denny’s seeking Mari. Kaoru is an acquaintance of Takahashi (who has since left the diner to play jazz) and she is seeking Mari because Takahashi told her that Mari spoke fluent Chinese. A Chinese prostitute was beaten up at the love hotel, the Alphaville, and Kaoru needs to talk to the foreign woman to get to the bottom of the matter. Kaoru’s investigation is in part driven by the fact that the Chinese hooker’s John dashed on the hotel bill, but the former wrestler also has a soft spot for the beaten girl and wants to do the right thing by her—though Kaoru knows the police can’t be involved because the Chinese working girl will, at a minimum, be deported by the authorities, or, worse, be punished by the Chinese mafia who pimp her.
As with a few of Murakami’s other books, this book might be labeled “slipstream.” Slipstream is a genre that blends mainstream literary fiction with supernatural elements / speculative fiction. However, the scenes that aren’t realist generally involve the sleeping Eri in her room by herself. So, it may be that Murakami is just conveying the hazy and illusory world of sleep and life at the edge of sleep. I’ll leave it to the reader to make their own interpretations of this. There are also coincidences that could strain credulity, but this may just be an attempt to convey that the world of Tokyo “after dark” is a small pond.
I’d highly recommend this novel. Murakami gives us likable characters and one can see why said characters are draw to each other despite their very different existences. Then he puts them into situations that demand resolution. It’s a short, readable, and interesting novel.
on March 15, 2014
Dear Haruki Murakami, I am writing to you at three in the morning when most regular people are sound asleep in bed, like my husband is now, right beside me. No, this is not that kind of letter!
But this is the time period, between midnight and dawn, when all of the action in your novel "After Dark" takes place. You—or someone—might ask why is it necessary to write this pseudo-review during the same time-period that the novel itself takes place? I will answer like many of your characters answer each other when asked questions of this sort in your novels: with a shrug (which you can't see) and an enigmatic "dunno."
Like many of the women in your novels—and like Mari Esai in this one—I have my reasons but my reasons for doing anything (or nothing) are often not communicable through mere language. Or maybe I just don't want to share them for personal reasons. Or maybe I don't fully know the reason myself. Maybe that's the point; maybe that's the essential mystery of life: I'm trying to find out myself.
I'm always on the fence when it comes to you, Haruki. I know you're a great author and all that. They even said you were one of the odds-on favorites to win the Nobel Prize this year! You and Philip Roth and Alice Munro, who actually won. Good for you! You're still only 65 so you have plenty of time yet. You're even five years younger than Philip Roth, who's quit writing (so he says), so don't give up. Keep writing! If Philip Roth has really thrown in the towel, you'll catch up and pass him in no time.
Anyway, what I meant to say is that I always have mixed feelings about you. Not about you, personally, of course; naturally, I don't know anything about you personally; but about you as a writer, specifically, about your novels. From what I've read so far of your work, I think I might like your short stories better. About you personally, strange to say, but I get the sense that I would like you, if I knew you. At least if you were anything like most of the male protagonists in your stories, like Takahashi, for instance, in "After Dark." He is a fairly typical example of what I'm talking about.
Takahashi seems like a nice guy, earnest, a little naive maybe, questioning, a bit verbose, actually, even annoying to a woman who'd prefer (or thinks she prefers) to be alone, but at the same time he's considerate and patient. He doesn't force himself physically on a woman. He senses (without saying it) when a woman is in trouble or lonely or would like to open up or fall in love(but can't) or whatever—and he tries to help. He tries to do what he can, including go away if the woman insists (which most men won't, even if they swear they'd do anything for you, even die they love you so much. The one thing most of them won't do is leave!!). Anyway, your heroes remind me a little of my husband (still sleeping, by the way) in many ways (though not the annoying part, of course), many of these quietly heroic understanding male characters of yours. I might be mistaken, but I imagine you are like this, too.
But back to Takahashi. He's up all night because he's practicing with his jazz band in the basement of an unused building. He's a couple of years older than Mari, who's nineteen, and we learn that soon he'll give up playing music and get "serious" about his future and start studying law. He has a lot of interesting opinions about the law. For instance, he thinks it's something like a giant malevolent octopus. He's frankly a little afraid of it. He compares it to a beast into whose clutches any one of us might get entangled and devoured. Maybe for that reason he feels it all the more important to get to know it—and learn to defend others from falling innocent prey to it. See what I mean about him being a hero? At least that's the sense I get from what he says about the subject.
In fact, what he actually says is this: "Any single human being, no matter what kind of a person he or she may be, is all caught up in the tentacles of this animal like a giant octopus, and is getting sucked into the darkness. You can put any kind of spin on it you like, but you end up with the same unbearable spectacle."
You get the feeling that he's talking about more than just the law here. That he's talking about life itself. Or what opposes life and eventually consumes it, which, of course, is the inevitability of death...oblivion, probably. It's a pretty grim view of life from a basically optimistic happy-go-lucky character. But that's the thing about Takahashi. He's a lot deeper than he looks. He's seen a lot of darkness in his own life; but he prefers to turn his face toward the sun. And he's trying to get Mari to do so, too. That's what makes him a hero. He's not trying to save the world, just one girl, maybe, two, if you count Mari's sister. He's a modest, unassuming hero, but a hero, nonetheless.
It's very sweet the way he comes upon Mari Asai reading in an all-night Denny's and decides to sit down with her and start talking. He's drawn to her right away it seems, even before remembering that he was once on a double-date with her and her older sister Eri. It was Takahashi's friend who was dating Eri and Takahashi was just dragged along, as was Mari, who stayed in the hotel pool where the date took place practically the entire time, hardly saying a word to Takahashi, just swimming back and forth, back and forth like a sleek young porpoise! He doesn't say it with any anger or bitterness or self-pity or anything. That's why you've got to like the guy. He doesn't seem to take offense and he remembers thinking that Mari was cute at the time, even though it's her sister who is the beautiful one, literally magazine-model beautiful, and who usually gets all the attention.
And it's actually Eri who's the most obvious damsel-in-distress; she's in the most immediate danger, even though she's not really much of a character in "After Dark," not the heroine at all. In fact, she's asleep through practically the entire novel. And not just because it's night time. It seems she's been asleep for the last two months, unable to face the world for secret reasons no one knows. Although she seems to wake up briefly—and conveniently—to nibble enough food and sip enough water to stay alive and continue looking beautiful and not like a skeletal concentration camp victim or a terminal cancer patient with bedsores. And, also, conveniently, to use the bathroom. Otherwise she wouldn't make a very fetching "Sleeping Beauty" or "Snow White."
There are many scenes interspersed throughout the novel of Eri sleeping, which are, I have to admit, not very enjoyable to me, really tedious, in fact; they are narrated in this super-objective tone, like something out of a Robbe-Grillet novel. We are an impersonal observer, we're informed by an impersonal narrative voice, all we can do is watch, like the eye in a camera. We can't wake Eri; no one can. So the details of her room, of Eri herself are gone over with obsessive attention, with the proverbial fine-toothed comb. How beautiful she is, how perfectly formed, etc etc.
I guess its supposed to gives us a voyeuristic erotic thrill on some level, which is ultimately why you couldn't have her really in a coma pooping herself into a diaper (unless you were a real pervert!). But I don't know, Haruki. It just seems a very typical sort of "male" thing, this lingering over a woman's unconscious body, creepy, too, but I guess boys will be boys, even sensitive otherwise heroic boys like you (and Takahashi) and probably even my husband. I suppose you'd say these scenes were intended to build suspense and mystery and surreality. But I suspect they probably just turned you on at some level, and turn-on a great deal of your male readers. But they really don't do anything for me(sigh).
I feel pretty much the same way about the scenes in the "love-hotel," which is another term for "hot-sheets hotel," as we call them here in America. It's a place for illicit affairs and where hookers take their clients. Mari finds herself there for a while trying to talk to a young Chinese prostitute who's been beaten bloody by her client for the evening, a typical Japanese company man. I should have said already that Mari studies Chinese in school; she wants to be a translator when she graduates.
Anyway, these scenes are ostensibly meant as a means to introduce Mari to the dark netherworld of "after dark," the side of life she is ordinarily protected from behind the white picket fences of her upper-middle class suburban lifestyle. Okay, fair enough. But they also seem a way to provide some "cheap thrills" and the tendency of these motifs to "pop up" all the time in even otherwise serious literature written by men is one of the reasons I tend not to enjoy reading male authors as much as women authors.
I guess it's a hormonal thing with you guys, not something that can be helped, like your spontaneous erections and your need to scratch and rub "down there," for instance, or the way you immediately stop channel surfing whenever an underclad woman appears on the tv screen, or to forward each other emails with photos of women with boobs the size of overstuffed knapsacks, no matter how deformed-looking or gross these appendages are hanging. So I try to cut you some slack, but it's true, I'm reading through these scenes with eyes a-rolling.
Anyway, I have to say, when all is said and done, and as dawn approaches here in Brooklyn, New York, and it's time to get up and make my hubby his sausage-egg-and-cheese scramble or to first take care of his own "beastly" urges (I have been told enthusiastically by quite a number of men that I'm a very skillful little blowjob, the best they ever had, though men will typically say that to any girl in that situation, even long after that situation, in the hopes of soon getting in that situation again, so how can you know for sure. I tend to believe them, though: 1. because I want to. 2. because I really do like it that way. See I can play to the audience, too!) The point is that I'm no prude Haruki Murakami, which some of my above criticisms of your book may have led you to conclude. Far from it. Misleading as these caveats may be, I want to tell you that, on the whole, I actually enjoyed "After Dark" very much.
At the end, which I won't give away just in case anyone is reading this (and who would be reading this, pray tell, I can't imagine; certainly not you, Haruki Murakami, that is almost for certain! No one will read this unless it's a guy googling the word "blowjob" who gets directed here by accident but he'll have given up long before now)...anyway, at the end of the novel, I was literally reading through tears in my eyes. I'm talking here about the final scene at the railway station between Takahashi and Mari, not the faintly lesbianic concluding scenes with Mari and Eri in bed together, where my eyes were rolling again, but this time just a little bit.
Well, what can I say? In the end you had my eyes tearing up and rolling in quick succession, Haruki Murakami—but this is the important part, you had them reading through it all.
Good morning (which is probably good night to you in Japan) & best wishes from your friend, m(not quite mari but almost)eeah.
PS. I hope you win that Nobel Prize. Nice guys should finish first once in a while, even ones I just imagine are probably nice.