After Dark, Haruki Murakami

After Dark

Translated by Jay Rubin

Haruki Murakami (1949 – ) is Japan’s “best-known novelist abroad”. I came to him late, borrowing an audio book version of 1Q84 from my local library one or two years ago. The opportunity to read this one came up when I saw our house in the Rue de la Tombe Issoire had a shelf of English language Murakami’s, selected this one as the shortest, and knocked it off in one night (that is, I read it, I didn’t take it with me). But I’ll have to make room in my posting schedule to fit it in.

After Dark (2004) is both short – 200pp – and unlike 1Q84, relatively straightforward, but still with elements that occupy the space between SF and magic realism. A young woman is sitting in a cafe, a Dennys, late at night, reading.

She is probably college freshman age, though an air of high school still clings to her. Hair black, short, and straight. Little make-up, no jewellery. Small, slender face. Black-rimmed glasses. Every now and then, an earnest wrinkle forms between her brows.

She’s pretty, but we learn that she doesn’t think so herself. A lanky, young man with long, tangled hair comes in and, after a minute, joins her at her table. It appears that he has met her before,  on a sort of date with her spectacularly good looking older sister. The name of the young woman is Mari, and her sister is Eri. It is only later that we discover the young man’s name, Takahashi.

Takahashi leaves. He’s a trombonist in a band having an all-night practice session in a near-by warehouse. Later, a big, athletic woman, Kaoru, comes in, a former wrestler now managing a love hotel. A Chinese prostitute has been beaten and abandoned. Takahashi who sometimes helps out at the love hotel, has told Kaoru that Mari speaks Chinese. Mari goes off with Kaoru.

Murakami’s voice alternates between narration and observation.

The room is dark, but our eyes gradually adjust to the darkness. A woman lies in bed asleep. A young, beautiful woman: Mari’s sister, Eri. Eri Asai. We know this without having been told so by anyone… We allow ourselves to become a single point of view, and we observe her for a time.

There is a television in the bedroom. The screen shows a seated man staring out into the room. Sometimes the screen flickers. Later in the book Eri’s bed is empty, the bedding undisturbed, but through the screen we see that, somewhere, she sleeps on. When she eventually wakes she seems unable to make her way back.

With Mari translating, Kaoru and her workmates patch up the Chinese woman. Mari feels they might have been friends if circumstances weren’t dragging them in radically different directions. The Chinese woman is picked up by her minder on a motorbike. Throughout the night the bike cruises past Mari and Takahashi. They don’t notice.

Mari talks to the women at the love hotel, to Takahashi who has cut short his rehearsal. Mari’s parents have concentrated all their attention on Eri and her modelling career, Mari is the ‘plain’, sporty one. She can’t go home, something is wrong with her sister, she, Eri won’t wake up. Takahashi has decided to give up music and concentrate on his studies to become a lawyer. We find that Eri has confided in Takahashi, who was in her year at school, but not in her circle. The night passes.

Allowing ourselves to become pure point of view, we hang in midair over the city. What we see now is a gigantic metropolis waking up. Commuter trains of many colours move in all directions, transporting people from place to place. Each of those under transport is a human being with a different face and mind, and at the same time each is a nameless part of the collective entity.

Mari finds a way to begin bridging the gap to Eri.  After Dark is a good read, and  just sufficiently weird to keep you intrigued.

In the rue de la Tombe Issoire we are sitting up late, watching new episodes of Big Bang Theory on British TV. Geology daughter says “if it’s written by a man, with that cover” then she doesn’t want to read it. She’s right, Murakami is telling us women’s stories, of being in the beauty industry, of being a sister, so now I am unsure. You will have to decide for yourself.

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Staircase and skylight

Haruki Murakami, After Dark, first pub. 2004, this ed. translated by Jay Rubin, Harvill Secker, London, 2007

see also this comprehensive guide to reading Murakami in the blog Book Oblivion (here)

 

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11 thoughts on “After Dark, Haruki Murakami

  1. I wouldn’t pick up that cover either, I much prefer the red, black and white Dutch Uncle covers that Vintage Books/Random House ran with in Australia.
    Authors have no say in the covers on their books in various countries, but the publishers usually pick a cover that they feel will sell in their territory.
    Like you, my first Murakami was 1Q84, which intrigued me enough to explore his back list, however I haven’t got to this one yet. I like the idea of it being ” just sufficiently weird to keep you intrigued.”
    A Wild Sheep Chase ended up being too weird for me and Colorless Tsukuru was perhaps not quite weird enough. Whereas What I Talk About When I Talk Running was surprisingly fascinating (considering I’m not a runner at all!)

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    • Hi Brona, I hadn’t thought about different countries having different covers, though there’s often a heap to choose from when you go to Google Images. I had a lot to do with sheep when I was younger so I can imagine a ‘wild sheep chase’ but I might take your advice and give the Running one a go. When I talk about swimming its usually about laps and times, but what Marakumi would talk about running I can’t imagine.

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  2. I have read quite a few Murakamis – including this one, but a year before I started blogging. And Brona, my cover, a Vintage one I bought in 2008, has the same cover as the one Bill read. I haven’t read IQ84 because it had some mixed reviews, but I have reviewed a couple of his books on my blog, including the Running one which I agree was really fascinating, and I’m not a runner either.

    As for Geology daughter’s comment, hmmm, it’s so long since I read it. I can’t remember feeling gender-concerned but his writing is so other-worldly that I get carried away by trying to work out what ideas he’s playing with, but it is usually about disconnects/alienations in the real world that result in characters feeling disconnected.

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    • I tend to read ‘literally’, that is I believe everything that the author tells me, which I guess is what you do, suspend disbelief, then at the end I have to go back and work out why the author told that story in that way and what I learned (if I can be bothered!). So firstly I can say I enjoyed stage 1, the actual reading, the story flowed in interesting directions. As for stage 2, the analysis, I’m not sure what meaning to ascribe to the ‘magic’ elements, in this case the sleeping girl reappearing on the other side of the screen, but geo daughter’s comment did make me think about how much of the core of the story was about women being used – as model’s, and whores – by men and how their own self-image was bound up in that and Eri, the model who wouldn’t wake, was desperate for a way out, but so also were Mari and no doubt, the Chinese girl.

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  3. I’m teaching a class in which we are discussing literature, serialization, and technology. I have them read an essay about the #1 selling books in Japan: they are all cell-phone novels, stories written on phones by anonymous Japanese women and girls (usually 16-23). Readers get bits of the book in text messages, so they have to wait and anticipate the next line until the very end. The most popular books are then turned into paperback books (though the pages are designed to mimic the look of text messages. These books sell about ten MILLION copies.

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    • In the 1800s most Australian novels started as serials in newspapers and I guess that’s true elsewhere (for Dickens and Twain for instance). Interesting that these are anonymous. I wonder if they influence Murakami, or if he influences them. Strange place Japan.

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      • The cell phone novels are written by women who remain anonymous because they dear they will shame themselves​ and their families. The stories are about teen pregnancy, abortion, rape, love, diseases, etc. Big topics. In Japan, I’ve read, it’s important to be part of the status quo, and not draw attention to oneself.

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