After Dark by Haruki Marukami
At the beginning of Haruki Marukami’s fictional novel, After Dark, we find ourselves immersed in a vivid, strange, and neon midnight world like no other. But before the rules and limits of this sprawling and ever-changing world can be processed, the narrator guides the reader into a simple Denny’s in one of Tokyo’s amusement districts.
Inside the Denny’s, we meet Mari, a college freshman. While the Denny’s is full of people chatting and eating, Mari is an outlier. She sits alone sipping coffee, smoking a cigarette or two, and concentratedly reading. Quick-witted but slightly stand-offish, she is absorbed in her book and somehow ignores the omnipresent noises around her. However, the course of Mari’s evening suddenly shifts when a young man named, Takahashi, strolls into the bustling Denny’s.
After Takahashi sits and leaves, the rest of the night’s events are all but mundane. With intriguing and mysterious occurrences around every corner, Mari soon realizes her idea of a peaceful night will all be but shattered as embarks on a journey into the psyche of the people who live their lives from the darkest hours of midnight, to the wee hours of the early morning.
Hovering in the air like a humming electric pulse, Marukami’s writing continually suspends the imagination, spinning the reader in circles even after the pages end. The plot in, After Dark, truly tests the bounds of reality and puts forth many questions readers may never even think to ask. A fast-paced masterpiece, this novel is perfect for anyone looking to question our shared realities.
“Eyes mark the shape of the city. Through the eyes of a high-flying night bird, we take in the scene from midair. In our broad sweep- the city looks like a single gigantic creature- or more like a single collective entity created by many intertwining organisms,” (page 1).
“‘Wow. I had awful grades, but I didn’t mind school all that much. If there was somebody I didn’t like, I’d just beat the crap out of them.’
Mari smiles. “I wish i could have done that…'” (page 68).
“‘Like, say, an octopus. A giant octopus living way down deep at the bottom of the ocean. It has the tremendously powerful life force, a bunch of long undulating legs, and it’s heading somewhere, moving through the darkness of the ocean. I’m sitting there listening to these trials, and all I can see in my head is this creature. It takes on all kinds of different shapes-sometimes it’s ‘the nation,’ and sometimes it’s ‘the law,’ and sometimes it takes on shapes that are more difficult and dangerous than that,'” (page 118).
“Mari thinks about what Korogi said. ‘I do feel that I’ve managed to make something I could maybe call my own world… over time… little by little. And when I’m inside it, to some extent, I feel kind of relieved. But the very fact I felt I had to make my own world probably means that I’m a weak person, that I bruise easily, don’t you think? And in the eyes of society at large, that world of mine is a puny little thing. It’s like a cardboard house; a puff of wind might carry it of somewhere,'” (pages 202-203).
First and foremost, I am truly sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted. One of my main goals for 2017 is to start updating this blog at least once a week because I need to start reading and writing more on my own time.
I decided to read Haruki Murakami’s, After Dark, after I picked it up in a used bookstore and read thirty pages right on the spot. Honestly, I am still training myself to be patient when finding new books to read. Many times I will give up reading a book in just a page or two if it does not catch my attention immediately. Whether or not that is a mistake, I was astounded when, After Dark, caught my attention right from the first paragraph. In addition, a few of my very well-read friends have been raving about Murakami’s work for quite some time, so I wanted to find something intriguing, but shorter page-wise, to begin my descent into Murakami’s world.
Looking back at the quotes I chose to use in this review, I think it is really interesting that most of them are dialogue-based. Although they may be a tad bit obscure and out of context to a reader who is unfamiliar with Murakami or this book, one of the most notable characteristics of, After Dark, is its winding dialogue. Since the story is told in third person omniscient, dialogue is extremely important when the book does not exactly focus on just one character in particular.
Initially, Mari seems to be the main character, but in reality, I like to think of this book as quilt of characters. At first we are only introduced to one patch of the quilt, but as we read on, we begin to see the whole picture and how each individual character is sewn into the quilt and the story.
What I really loved about reading this book was how Murakami can take a seemingly dull situation and make it into an exciting plot. All we know from the beginning is that we are introduced to a woman, Mari, who is reading alone in a crowded Denny’s after midnight. It doesn’t seem like a super interesting plot, but the way Murakami writes about the Denny’s makes it seem incredibly unique and almost personal. He describes the scene as if there is something about to happen… only, we don’t really know what it is. And then, Takahashi appears.
When I met Takahashi, I assumed I knew where the plot was going. A loner and a nerd, standoffish Mari can’t help but be pulled into the smiling and joking vortex that is Takahashi. Under his guidance and boyish charm, Mari explores the night world and is pulled into adventure after adventure. However, After Dark, is not a love story, and Murakami is not a simple writer. In fact, Mari and Takahashi’s first encounter is incredibly brief as he must return to practice with his band. And when he leaves, the real fun begins.
A tall, blonde woman comes into the Denny’s looking for Mari. She explains that Takahashi has sent her because he reported that Mari can speak fluent Chinese, and she needs Mari’s assistance. It turns out the woman is an ex-wrestler who works at a love hotel, and on her shift, a customer beat up a Chinese prostitute. After she pleads for Mari to translate, Mari accepts and journeys to the love hotel.
If this plot progression seems wacky, just wait. While Mari goes to the love hotel, Murakami introduces the reader to Mari’s sister, Eri Asai. Astoundingly beautiful even in her sleep, the reader watches as Eri sleeps peacefully in her bed. However, something is wrong with her sleep. It is… too peaceful. As Eri sleeps, her unplugged tv flickers to life until it shows the image of a masked man sitting alone in an empty room. Although the tv would suggest he is in a separate world than Eri’s, the narrator alarmingly reports that the man seems to be watching Eri slumber. And it only gets weirder.
After Dark, begins as fiction and then slowly warps into a sci-fy, magical realism sort of story. It seamlessly blends existential concepts with the realities of everyday life, while simultaneously suggesting that people are connected and separated in unfathomable ways.
**SLIGHT spoiler: Ultimately, the plot and mysteries of the stories remain just that; mysteries. I think I would need to read this book again in order to grasp every single theme because it is just so complex. What I love about, After Dark, is that it is stacked with a multitude of themes and filters. You could read the book just admiring Murakami’s gorgeous writing, or looking at specific character relationships. Or, you could read the novel just looking at the philosophical sides of the plot.
The best and most frustrating part about, After Dark, is the simple fact that it is so open-ended. There are certain characters who appear a couple of times, only to be left out of the conclusion at the end of the book. You know they are important somehow, but not exactly how or why. In addition, I really couldn’t pin this book down to just one genre because it crosses so many unexpected borders. All in all, I read, After Dark and enjoyed the experience. Since there are so many layers to the story, it is hard to read it for the first time and try to analyze all of its elements. Therefore, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.