After Dark – Andy spends the night with Murakami

October 13, 2012

My initial Murakami choice was going to be The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but I had so much to read last month I opted for something just a wee bit shorter. As it turns out, assuming The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is as brilliantly readable as After Dark, I might’ve managed it after all. I had a suspicion Murakami would be a little dense, a little difficult, a bit of a slog. Happily I was wrong.

Although I should perhaps backtrack slightly there and admit that Murakami is difficult in that I basically have almost no idea what was going on in After Dark. I mean I understand, for the most part, what was going on story wise. Beneath the story, though… Hmm.

There are arguably two, perhaps three, story threads here. Uni student Mari, Takahashi and the manager of the “love hotel” (you know) Kaoru forms the major, and most straightforward, thread. Mari’s beautiful sister Eri, meanwhile, is asleep – and has been asleep for weeks. She wakes often enough to use the bathroom and eat; that’s pretty much it.  And then there’s a man who has assaulted a Chinese prostitute at Kaoru’s love hotel and, afterwards,  works late at the office.

And then it gets weird.

Enjoyably weird, though. Enjoyably surreal.

One of Murakami’s primary subjects here, as far as I can tell, is the idea of observation and surveillance. Cameras feature prominently – in fact his writing frequently mimics film scripts, using words like line of sight, viewpoint and perspective, emphasising the idea that we are “seeing” something when in fact we are reading it. He describes “interiors”, just as screenplays or TV scripts would. He writes of our eyes adjusting to the darkness in a room. He tells us there are things we cannot see because of where we are standing. Chapters often begin with a simple description of the setting of that chapter.- “Eri Asai’s room”, “Skylark interior”, “Shirakawa’s office”. It’s identifiably a novel; Murakami doesn’t write it as a script – although there’s at least one scene that’s written as script, with the character’s name followed by the words. And just in case we missed it, televisions and cameras, and images, are important plot wise and symbolically. It’s not an exaggeration to say After Dark wears its postmodernist heart on its sleeve. Sometimes, in my (metafictive) book, that’s a bad thing. Not here.

What it all actually means, I’m afraid, I can’t tell you. It’s tempting to suggest he’s critiquing the culture of surveillance in which we now live, and the way in which that can’t co-exist with our burgeoning obsession with privacy. Tempting, but I’m pretty sure misguided. After Dark was a quick read but it was a quick read with a lot going on. I didn’t get all of it, and the fact it’s a quick read means it’s much more likely I’ll get back to it in the near future and try to nut it out.

I don’t think it’s completely successful, although this may be a translation issue. Or maybe it’s deliberate on Murakami’s part and I missed the significance. But some of the “hardboiled” dialogue between Kaoru and her staff jarred. Do some Japanese people talk to each other as if they were in a not terribly good Hollywood gangster movie from the 40s? Maybe they do.

A pretty minor quibble though. I thoroughly enjoyed After Dark and I’ll be getting around to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in the near future. Or maybe Norwegian Wood. Either way, like a number of other Challenge authors, Murakami has joined the To Explore list.


One comment

  1. I recommend Kafka on the Shore. Also Sputnik Sweetheart is good if you want to read another of his shorter works.

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