After Dark – Haruki Murakami

I’ve wanted to read Murakami’s work for a while now. It was one of those authors whose name would pop up every now and then, just enough to arouse my curiosity. One day, as I was wandering through a bookstore, I saw a few of his books lined up on a shelf and decided to pick one. After Dark felt like a good choice, because it was short (and I thought I’d start small) and the name was intriguing.

From the very first pages I had the feeling of being drawn into a strange environment, some sort of autopsy room where Murakami was the coroner performing the operation of cutting the flesh open. He uses his pen like a surgeon would use a scalpel, making a precise incision, exposing exactly the parts that he wants his readers to see. And we look, mesmerized, unable to move or think of anything else while he works away, slicing briefly here and there, making us draw closer, horrified and fascinated at the same time.

The narrative starts on a well defined path which little by little takes us from the real world into the realm of fantasy and back again.
The characters are well shaped and each of them vulnerable and mysterious. Over the course of one night, their lives intertwine in unexpected ways.

The action revolves around Mari, a 19 year old college student who spends a night in a diner, hoping for some temporary relief, a brief escape from the oppressed atmosphere at home. There she meets young Takahashi, a wannabe musician, and what seems an awkward encounter at first, changes gradually as the two of them start talking, sharing brief episodes of their lives, getting to know each other.
The dialogue is captivating, with unexpected turns, making it yet another tool which the author uses to expose more of his characters’ lives. Drama is ever present, and beneath their seemingly calm appearance, people’s feelings are raw, confessions abound and impressions change.
The final pages don’t bring closure but it’s more like the end of a phase and the beginning of another. There is plenty of mystery left but also the unspoken reassurance of hope, fragile yet palpable.

Read in September 2010

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7 Responses to After Dark – Haruki Murakami

  1. Esa says:

    I like your surgical analogy even more now.
    The language is precise and clean, but Murakami is able to bring a depth of scene and character that belies his spare prose.

    And I like your thoughts about the end of the novel. It isn’t the end of the story,
    as I began to imagine what could happen to Mari and Takahashi, almost as soon as I read the last word.

  2. Delia says:

    Murakami is one of those writers who creates strange environments for normal people and throws in a bit of fantasy, just enough to make you wonder.
    Your comment about the spare prose reminds me of Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast” when one of the characters in the book talks about the writing style, “Hem, too stark, too stripped, too lean, too sinewy”.

    • Esa says:

      I think I owe it to myself to try Hemingway. I do remember a couple of quick glances at his work. They didn’t really register then, but I will try a short story or something, one day.

  3. I’ve read a few Murakamis and have enjoyed them all. I love the way he creates atmosphere and a sense of dislocation or alienation in his characters.

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