Being in graduate school, one can’t help but hear about Haruki Murakami in the context of contemporary literature. It’s quite amazing, to say the least, that a writer who writes in Japanese, is read so widely in this country. Which other authors could boast the same with their translated works? Not many. That, and my fascination with Japan, always had me curious about Murakami. But his books were never on sale, and I had a tight budget every time I went to the book store. I started reading After Dark at Barnes & Noble once, but had to keep it away because I needed to buy something else. I got really lucky this week when I was out with friends and came across a store going out of business. They had everything on sale! Spanking new copies for half the price?! Was I in heaven or what? I am glad I thought about looking for Murakami at the store. This time, I wasn’t going to let it go.
As the name suggests, the novel starts at night, and plays out in real time till the sun rises the next day. There is Mari, a nineteen year old girl, trying to spend a night out, alone. There is Takahashi, a young man, who starts a conversation with her. The writer breaks the fourth invisible wall that helps us see the goings-on, as he often uses “we” and includes the reader into the mix. We’re helpless, but we’re right there. This unusual trick does wonders to add to the eerie feeling that the novel creates. The middle-of-the-night landscape of downtown Tokyo is barren and Murakami takes little to no effort to describe it to us. Instead, he repeatedly tells us about what Mari is wearing, or how beautiful her sister Eri is. Eri has been asleep for a while now, and Mari is awake, trying not to sleep. Each of the characters are running away from something, or caught in a world they cannot make sense of. Takahashi wants to become a lawyer, but it doesn’t seem like that’s his dream. Mari is going to go to China, but she is afraid of doing so. Eri is caught in the world of sleep, and wakes up in a place that’s indescribable. Having seen (and disliked, sorry to say) Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, it was interesting to note the use of similar tropes in the movie and novel, namely the use of the television set. There is a namesake hotel in the novel called Alphaville too, which is obviously not a co-incidence.
Most of the times, I’ve been rewarded reading shorter texts of hefty writers like Murakami, and After Dark was no exception. I understand why reviews by his fans opine that this might not be his best work. It is a little too straightforward. But I did feel a profundity in its simplicity. The characters weren’t really explored deeply (on purpose, I think), and yet they left me with a deep impression. The romanticized idea of spending a night out, meeting someone new, talking all night long to them – these are all used by Murakami, and yet the novel is not stereotypical. I really look forward to getting my hands on more of his books. And I won’t be surprised if I turn into one of his fans.