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[314] After Dark – Haruki Murakami

” Midnight is approaching, and while the peak of activity has passed, the basal metabolism that maintains life continues undiminished, producing the basso continuo of the city’s moan, a monotonous sound that neither rises nor falls but is pregnant with foreboding. ” [Ch. 1]

After Dark, which captures a series of events that link a few random people together, is pregnant with foreboding. Set in Tokyo, in a seedy downtown entertainment district, a girl at Denny’s is reading an unnamed book over coffee, at four minutes before midnight. Mari wants nothing more than to be left alone—she’s buying her time at the restaurant with coffee and a sandwich that she scarcely touches.

She reads with great concentration. Her eyes rarely move from the pages of her book . . . She reaches out at regular intervals and brings the coffee cup to her mouth, but she doesn’t appear to be enjoying the flavor. She drinks because she has a cup of coffee in front of her: that is her role as a customer. [Ch.1]

Against her expectation, Mari is disrupted by people who demand her help and company. To her table first comes an old acquaintance, Takahashi, a jazz trombonist who aspires to become a lawyer. Their conversation reveals that Eri, Mari’s older sister, is mired in a slumber that has been going on for over months. Mari grieves over that she has not been very close to Eri. At the same time, moments past midnight, the narrative, which adopts the quality of a camera vision, shifts to Eri, comatose in her bedroom, who is about to experience a different kind of reality. The story takes a turn to surrealism, yielding to metaphysics.

We let ourselves become a pure single point and pass through the TV screen separating the two worlds, moving from this side to the other. When we pass through the wall and leap the abyss, the world undergoes a great deformation . . . [Ch. 10]

The arrival of butch Kaoru, manager of a nearby love hotel, dissipates Mari’s wills and dislodges her from reading for good. Semi-fluent in Mandarin, she comes to help a Chinese prostitute who has been battered by a businessman-john. It’s obvious that Mari is not only the main character, she is the circle with which Murakami links together the people who would have never crossed path during the day. The novel hinges on this peculiar irony that Mari’s deciding to read at Denny’s has created a communal flow over wee hours. As these random events manifest, progress, and push to resolution, one cannot help feeling that when most activities shout down at night, lives that are separate by the day can lose uniqueness and become boundless. Interpersonal distance shortens. Loneliness amplifies when one is stripped of all responsibility, obligation, and agenda. The hypnotic novel captures this truth about loneliness and the unfanthomability at the heart of modern life.

244 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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13 Responses

  1. Nice review Matt. I loved this book – its atmosphere and ambience. I have a pretty happy life and yet I tend to be drawn to books that evoke loneliness and isolation. As Americans would say, go figure …

    • It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. I absolutely love the mood and atmosphere. It’s very rare that a book without much of a plot (more like a flow) would be so emotionally and psychologically rich.

  2. I love your opening quote! Glad I have this book on my shelf.

  3. I have yet to read any Murakami. This one sounds like it would captivate me from the start and leave me alone in my deep thoughts.

  4. Great review! I absolutely love this book! And the thing is that upon finishing the book I hated it, I just felt such a disconnection from it – however, after chatting about it with a friend, I realized how much of it stayed with me and how I truly was affected by it and in the end, I fell in love with the book. Definitely another must read by Murakami!

    • One of the main criteria by which I name my most favorite novels is how deeply the book has impressed me and stayed with me. After Dark is certainly such a book. My early sleeping habit puts me at odd to the setting of the novel, but the loneliness it evokes is just so right on!

  5. I will definitely have to read this! I’ve been really into books that take place in Japan these days. Probably because I’m really wanting to go there.

  6. This book is rich in emotions and still cleverly-written–a Murakami trademark, but this one is more blase compared with Murakami’s other masterpieces, like “Kafka on the Shore”, the “Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World”.

  7. Thanks for the review – I absolutely love Murakami, and am looking for the next one to read. Wind-up Bird Chronicle is definitely in my top 10 of all time, and it got me onto a recent Murakami! This sounds great – I’ve added it to my list.

  8. Brilliant! I think I have managed to buy this book the year it was published. Murakami is my favourite, despite not having read all of his books yet. I’m really interested in translated literature, particularly from Japanese and Russian. Have you read Kafka on the Shore by Murakami?

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