After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Japan’s literary superstar, Haruki Murakami’s 9th novel in translation (to English), After Dark, is an eerie, atmospheric read that brings out the sinister side of the night. While most of the world is busy soul-searching for the better part of these hours, the novel brings about the realization that we are truly quite small and insignificant in the bigger scheme of things. As the events of the day get blurred, they tend to take a step back, paving the way for hidden crises and pain to surface. After dark is the time when fantasy and reality collide, and physics morphs into metaphysics, eventually leading to something meaningful, sometimes dangerously so.

The book opens with the protagonist, Mari, sitting in an almost empty café, with a book in one hand and a cigarette dangling from the other. She is running away from reality and simultaneously trying to find a way out of her current situation back at home. She is then approached by a young trombonist, Takahashi, and is dragged into a conversation that is part philosophy and part reality. Mari later finds herself amidst a crime scene, translating sentences from Chinese as she happens to be fluent in the language. As Mari’s circumstances and whereabouts change throughout the night, the real and vulnerable side of her character takes over her originally strong and determined self.

In a parallel world, Eri Asai (Mari’s sister) is asleep, but this is a different kind of unconsciousness. The golden child of her family, Eri is beautiful and talented. But she is tired of shouldering the burdens placed on her by her family and the world, and has chosen this sleep as a mode of escape. It’s a conscious decision on her part, a mechanism to cope with the stress and exhaustion that life subjects her to.

As the clock strikes 12 and shops start to close, strange events start taking place all over the quaint Japanese town that After Dark is set in. A man beats up an immigrant prostitute in a ‘love hotel,’ Eri is sucked into a wormhole through a TV that is right next to her bed, and somewhere in an empty office bathroom, a mirror image responds in a way that is both unnatural and scary.

After Dark has been narrated by an unnamed narrator who visualizes the unraveling of the events as a neutral entity, unable to interfere, but one who narrates effectively and in detail each flicker of emotion and every incident, despite some of them being inconsequential. This narrator is omnipresent and, thus, tells the readers all about the deserted streets, the closed shops, the limited number of people sitting in these cafes, and the specific kind of folks who wander around looking for small talk or solace. The picture that is being painted is a bird’s eye view of the city on the outlook, but it also simultaneously focuses on individual happenings that will provide a finite direction to the narration.

Eri’s experience with the wormhole, especially her reaction to an enclosed space after being unconscious for a lengthy period of time, brings her back to the suffocating memories of reality, where she is expected to be the best of the best. An insight into her psyche is later provided by Mari during her conversation with Takahashi. The glimmer of the lights, which alternates between static and hazy, gives the impression of something uncanny and unnatural. The logical explanation for these events cannot be expected from the author, as it is in his nature to leave open-ended scenarios for the readers to read and form opinions on. It is the relevance to our modern lifestyle that turns this story into something meaningful and empowering.

The story of After Dark stands out from the other stories written by Murakami because it is character-centric and very experimental. While we keep searching for answers when it comes to the peculiar behavior of the other characters, the relationship between Eri and Mari runs a full circle. Mari eventually learns how to salvage her relationship with her sister, whereas Eri is now back in her world with some big decisions to make. As morning arrives, it speaks of a new day. This new day is full of possibilities and hope, especially for Eri and Mari, who have a severed bond to mend and reach each other in the way they once did.

After Norwegian Wood, After Dark is another book by Murakami that is perfect for a reader who is still trying out his characteristically unsettling writing. There’s an adequate amount of drama and thrill, and even though there are enough thought-provoking scenarios, there is also a proper story with a perfect ending. While Norwegian Wood is an intense story of love and loss, After Dark is all about the connections we share with certain people. Pick this up for yet another crazy ride to a Japanese town with strange sightings and people looking for something more from life.

Translator: Jay Rubin

Focusing on Literature and Lifestyle of the Urban Youth of the Country, LitGleam is a monthly magazine, an intrinsic part of BlueRose Publishers.

Within its pages, our readers find provocative essays on literature and lifestyle, guidance for getting published and pursuing writing careers, in-depth profiles of poets, fiction writers, and writers of creative nonfiction, and conversations among fellow professionals.

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