Haruki Murakami’s novel After Dark takes place in Tokyo between the hours of midnight and 7:00 AM. The story centers around Mari - a teenager who stays up all night, seemingly to avoid a situation at home where her beautiful sister lays sleeping and will not wake up. The reader gets to see Eri - the sister - sleeping deeply for much of the book. There are other characters…Takahashi, a young muscian who knows both sisters from a date several years ago; Shirakawa, a business man with a dark and violent side; and the madam and her girls from a “love house.” The characters cross paths in an almost dream-like way throughout the novel, revealing small parts about themselves and creating more questions than answers.
Murakami’s prose is script-like with a camera’s point of view. Told in the present tense, it reads like a screenplay. Thematically the novel seems to be exploring the dark (or hidden) side of human nature vs. what we choose to let others see in the light of day. Nothing seems to be defined, however.
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 a 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…” -From After Dark, page 226-
Unfortunately, Murakami leaves things mostly in the shadows and the effort to find the answers feels elusive.
I did not enjoy this book, although I wanted to. Much of the story is odd and dislocated. There are almost no answers to any of the questions posed. I closed the book feeling not only removed from the characters, but not caring about them one way or the other.
Murakami fans seem to love this one - and if you enjoy magical realism and Murakami’s style, you might want to give it a go.