The midnight hour approaches in an almost empty all-night diner. Mari sips her coffee and glances up from a book as a young man, a musician, intrudes on her solitude. Both have missed the last train home.
Later, Mari is interrupted again by a girl from the Alphaville Hotel; a Chinese prostitute has been hurt by a client, and she needs Mari’s help.
Meanwhile Mari’s beautiful sister Eri sleeps a deep, heavy sleep that is ‘too perfect, too pure’ to be normal; she has lain asleep for two months. But tonight as the digital clock displays 00:00, a hint of life flickers across the TV screen, though the television’s plug has been pulled out.
Strange nocturnal happenings, or a trick of the night?
About 6-7 years ago, I started collecting Murakami’s books, fully intending to read them. I ended up buying 5 of them but I only read Norwegian Wood, leaving the other 4 to collect dust on my shelf. Recently, I’ve had an urge to read Murakami again so I decided to start with After Dark, which is probably the shortest of all of his novels. I should mention that most of his books now have different covers, but I wanted to show the cover that I own.
In some ways, I’m glad that I left these books until now because I don’t think my teenage self would have understood or appreciated them as much as I probably will now. Murakami’s novels all have hidden themes and messages, and even reading After Dark now as an adult, I don’t think I understood everything the author wanted to convey. I didn’t want to read too deeply into it though, because that would have ruined the reading experience for me.
If you’re unsure about whether to pick up a Murakami book or not, I’d suggest reflecting on how you like to read. If you’re the type of reader who likes to fly through books and think back on them once you’ve finished the book, I don’t think Murakami is for you. His writing requires you to think critically as you read and reflect on it as you go. Murakami is also great at setting the mood of the book, and they’re best appreciated when you stop every few sentences to absorb everything that is happening.
Let’s jump into what I thought about After Dark. This book is set within a 7 hour period – from 11:56pm to 6:52am. It follows a couple of characters on their ‘adventures’ during the night. Not a lot actually happens in the book and sometimes the pace is quite slow. The writing was beautiful and complex, but easy to follow. The narration in this book is very interesting. It’s written from almost a third person omniscient point of view, but in the role of an imaginary video camera. It’s also written in a way that really involves the reader in what is happening.
Our point of view, as an imaginary camera, picks up and lingers over things like this in the room. We are invisible, anonymous intruders. We look. We listen. We note odours. But we are not physically present in the place and we leave behind no traces. We follow the same rules, so to speak, as orthodox time travellers. We observe but we do not intervene.
I thought the themes in this book were very interesting. Through this story about people’s activities in the middle of the night, Murakami poses questions about humanity and the darkness that lives in humans. I thought it was great how well Murakami was able to create such a complex story using such a simple plot. In the story, we watch people grow and literally emerge from the darkness into the light. But implicit in that, is the idea that eventually the darkness will return. I just thought that the story that the author put together embodied the themes brilliantly. In the book, there are also underlying themes of solitude and isolation, which seem to be themes that are in a lot of Murakami’s other works.
There were definitely some things that I didn’t understand in the book, or thought were unresolved. There was this mysterious, dream-like aspect to the story that I didn’t understand, and maybe I would benefit from a second reading. I did enjoy the rest of the story and the characters but I don’t think I had a complete grasp of everything the author wanted to convey.
While I did like this book, Norwegian Wood was a much better book in my opinion. It was more resolved and better developed. Having said that, I think After Dark would be a great introduction to Murakami. I’ve heard that if you enjoy After Dark, you’ll most likely enjoy his longer novels too.