Title: After Dark
Author: Haruki Murakami
Genre: Fiction, contemporary, magical realism, postmodernism
Where I got the book: I purchased this book through Book Depository.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary: Tokyo, in the hours between midnight and dawn. Young student Mari sits in anonymous solitude in an almost-empty diner, just reading her book. However, she is soon to be interrupted by a handful strangers seeking her help. Meanwhile, Mari’s beautiful sister Eri lies in a deep and heavy sleep that has lasted for two months. As the midnight hour approaches, the TV-screen in her room flickers to life, even though it’s unplugged. Somehow, Eri’s fate is connected to the secrets and mysteries of the Tokyo night.
“Between the time the last train leaves and the first train arrives, the place changes: it’s not the same as in daytime.”
– After Dark, Haruki Murakami
This is a bit of a different Murakami novel. Set in mid-winter, when the days are short and the nights are long, the chapters follow the events of one night in real-time, from early night until dawn. The viewpoint changes between a small number of characters and the reader is introduced to a specific scene and setting in each chapter. The events are described to you in a way that merely makes you an observer, almost like you’re following a camera. It is a cinematic novel where things mostly happen on the surface, with deeper themes hidden below.
This is a light read, and in many ways one of Murakami’s more approachable novels, as far as surrealism goes. It’s not as dark as I expected it to be, and the focus is more on interpersonal relations and interactions rather than on the bizarre. The surrealism is indeed there, but only in certain scenes and not as direct.
The novel is also very short, maybe his shortest (barely 200 pages), and if you want you can easily finish it in a day (or, maybe more fittingly, in one night). To some this might seem a bit rushed and underdeveloped, but I found it incredibly atmospheric concerning descriptions of night time. The atmosphere in general is probably my favorite thing about the whole book. It succeeds in catching that feeling of loneliness and alienation. So many people exist around you but you’re completely alone and isolated. Everything’s so vast but also so small and narrow at the same time. You’re awake but it feels like you’re dreaming. The surroundings are so pitch black that you can only see the scene that’s played out in front of you, but you know there’s something more lurking out there in the dark. The mood in this book is simply mysterious and strange, and even though the writing is simple and descriptive it’s still distinctly dream-like, even a little sinister, like Murakami’s writing often is.
For a long time I was undecided whether or not I was going to give it 4 or 5 stars, and while it is close to 5 stars for me there are in my opinion other Murakami books that deal with bigger, more complex themes than this one – or, rather, that deal with the same themes in a more complex way. I still think this is well worth the read, both for Murakami fans and for those who are more unfamiliar with his work.