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After Darkby Haruki Murakami
More menace than melancholy, readers will find After Dark a deliciously dark entry in Murakami's oeuvre.
Somewhere between the edge of sleep and wakefulness, After Dark resides. Told in one evening, with chapters indicated by time-stamps, Murakami's tale of both somnambulists and insomniacs is still, stark, and seductive. With a bonus delicious, "thriller-ish" story thread, After Dark is a little slice of Murakami heaven.
"After Dark is not Murakami's best work — there's an intrusive narrator spoon-feeding meaning you'd prefer to find on your own. But Murakami's humor and pop culture references remain, as do the underlying questions about the human condition....If only Nietzsche and Sartre had made questioning the meaninglessness of existence so fun." Anya Yurchyshyn, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
Synopses & Reviews
A short, sleek novel of encounters set in the witching hours of Tokyo between midnight and dawn, and every bit as gripping as Haruki Murakami's masterworks The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore.
At its center are two sisters: Yuri, a fashion model sleeping her way into oblivion; and Mari, a young student soon led from solitary reading at an anonymous Denny's into lives radically alien to her own: those of a jazz trombonist who claims they've met before; a burly female love hotel manager and her maidstaff; and a Chinese prostitute savagely brutalized by a businessman. These night people are haunted by secrets and needs that draw them together more powerfully than the differing circumstances that might keep them apart, and it soon becomes clear that Yuri's slumber — mysteriously tied to the businessman plagued by the mark of his crime — will either restore or annihilate her.
After Dark moves from mesmerizing drama to metaphysical speculation, interweaving time and space as well as memory and perspective into a seamless exploration of human agency — the interplay between self-expression and understanding, between the power of observation and the scope of compassion and love. Murakami's trademark humor, psychological insight, and grasp of spirit and morality are here distilled with an extraordinary, harmonious mastery.
"Murakami's 12th work of fiction is darkly entertaining and more novella than novel. Taking place over seven hours of a Tokyo night, it intercuts three loosely related stories, linked by Murakami's signature magical-realist absurd coincidences. When amateur trombonist and soon-to-be law student Tetsuya Takahashi walks into a late-night Denny's, he espies Mari Asai, 19, sitting by herself, and proceeds to talk himself back into her acquaintance. Tetsuya was once interested in plain Mari's gorgeous older sister, Eri, whom he courted, sort of, two summers previously. Murakami then cuts to Eri, asleep in what turns out to be some sort of menacing netherworld. Tetsuya leaves for overnight band practice, but soon a large, 30ish woman, Kaoru, comes into Denny's asking for Mari: Mari speaks Chinese, and Kaoru needs to speak to the Chinese prostitute who has just been badly beaten up in the nearby 'love hotel' Kaoru manages. Murakami's omniscient looks at the lives of the sleeping Eri and the prostitute's assailant, a salaryman named Shirakawa, are sheer padding, but the probing, wonderfully improvisational dialogues Mari has with Tetsuya, Kaoru and a hotel worker named Korogi sustain the book until the ambiguous, mostly upbeat dnouement." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Last year, Haruki Murakami's 'Kafka on the Shore' won the World Fantasy Award for best novel. This shouldn't come as a surprise. Ever since the Japanese writer began publishing in America — 'The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,' 'A Wild Sheep Chase' — Murakami has been out front, riding the zeitgeist, investing his work with an aura of the surreal, uncanny and fantastic. Over the past 25 years, literary... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) fiction has increasingly disdained the strict tenets of social realism. Our finest writers are now producing what is essentially science fiction (Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road'), alternate history (Michael Chabon's 'The Yiddish Policemen's Union') and absurdist fantasy (the short stories of George Saunders). A hot author such as Jonathan Lethem proudly introduces the work of Philip K. Dick for the Library of America. Neil Gaiman, creator of the Sandman series, has achieved rock-star status. We are living in an age when genre fiction — whether thrillers or graphic novels, children's books or sf — seems far more exciting and relevant than well-wrought stories of adultery in Connecticut. 'After Dark' is a short book, hypnotically eerie, full of noirish foreboding, sometimes even funny, but, most of all, it's one that keeps ratcheting up the suspense. At times, the novel recalls those unsettling films of Jean-Luc Godard or Michelangelo Antonioni where something dire seems always about to happen, even as attractive young people, full of anomie and confusion, meander aimlessly through an ominous urban landscape. The entire action of 'After Dark' takes place over the course of just one night, starting at four minutes to midnight and ending at 6:52 a.m. That action is conveyed to us from a hovering eye-in-the-sky viewpoint, as if a camera were floating invisibly through each chapter, recording what it sees but sometimes also talking directly to the reader. What the camera lens first zeroes in on is a Denny's in Japan. The restaurant is crowded, a jukebox is playing. Soon we swoop down on one particular customer: 'She sits at a four-person table, reading a book. Hooded gray parka, blue jeans, yellow sneakers faded from repeated washing. On the back of the chair next to her hangs a varsity jacket. This, too, is far from new. She is probably college freshman age, though an air of high school still clings to her. Hair black, short, and straight. Little makeup, no jewelry. Small, slender face. Black-rimmed glasses. Every now and then, an earnest wrinkle forms between her brows. ... The music playing at low volume is "Go Away Little Girl," by Percy Faith and His Orchestra. No one is listening, of course.' Mari Asai is her name, as we discover when an old friend of her sister's recognizes her. That sister, Eri, we soon learn, is cover-girl beautiful. She is compared to Snow White and later to Sleeping Beauty. Even before he runs off, Takahashi, carrying his trombone, tells Mari that he'll be jamming in a basement not too far away. By this time, the jukebox is starting on Burt Bacharach's 'The April Fools.' Why is Mari here in the middle of the night? This isn't a safe neighborhood. Nearby is a love hotel named Alphaville, where couples can rent rooms by the hour. Is she waiting for someone or fleeing something? We just have to wait and see. But when we turn the page, the point of view has suddenly shifted location, and we now hover in the bedroom of Eri Asai. The beautiful young woman sleeps so soundly that she hardly seems alive. So deep a sleep isn't normal. The room itself appears sparsely furnished, except for a television. As we observe Eri in her coma-like state, the TV begins to flicker into life, even though it is clearly unplugged. An image starts to form on the dark screen, the image of a man sitting in a chair, staring into this very room, unblinkingly focused on the sleeping Eri. Meanwhile back at Denny's, the clock reads 12:25 a.m. Mari is still hunched over her book, when suddenly a large powerful woman, dressed in a leather jacket, storms in. She goes right up to the studious girl and asks her to come to Alphaville, where something terrible has happened to a young Chinese prostitute. According to Takahashi, Mari speaks Chinese. Can she help communicate with the frightened girl? By this point, the unnerved reader is beginning to worry. What kind of intrigue is going on around Mari? Can she — or we — trust the fat Kaoru? And what's in store for the sleeping Eri? Why, too, is there so much mask imagery and so much talk of invisible barriers and of waking up? Soon other, increasingly disturbing characters begin to appear. What organizing principle links all these disparate scenes and people? The sense of menace escalates: 'A motorcycle comes to a halt at the front entrance of the Alphaville: a big, tough-looking Honda sports bike. The man driving it wears a full-face helmet. He leaves the engine running as though he wants to be ready to get out fast if he has to. He wears a tight-fitting black leather jacket and blue jeans. High-top basketball shoes. Thick gloves. The man takes off his helmet and sets it on the gas tank. After a careful scan of his surroundings, he takes off one glove, pulls a cell phone from his pocket, and punches in a number. He is around thirty. Reddish dyed hair, ponytail. Broad forehead, sunken cheeks, sharp eyes. After a short conversation, the man hangs up and puts the phone back into his pocket. He pulls his glove back on and waits.' Through his short enigmatic chapters, Murakami — aided by Jay Rubin's perfectly pitched English — manages to convey something of the interconnectedness of city life and its constant air of expectancy and danger. As one character says to Mari: 'Let me tell you something. ... The ground we stand on looks solid enough, but if something happens it can drop right out from under you. And once that happens, you've had it: things'll never be the same.' Michael Dirda's e-mail address is mdirda(at)gmail.com." Reviewed by Amanda SchafferDaniel StashowerMichael TomaskyPerri KlassJonathan YardleyJohn SimonChip CrewsMichael Dirda, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[A] pellucid dramatization of disconnection, alienation, the hunger for human contact and the strategies by which we all manage to 'make it through the night.' A seductive and gratifying intellectual and romantic adventure." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Each character is unique in his or her form of loneliness, yet each possesses a capacity for momentary empathy that is both sweet and heartbreaking. Murakami's genius, on both large and small canvases, is to create worlds both utterly alien and disconcertingly familiar." Booklist
"[A] bittersweet novel that will satisfy the most demanding literary taste....Murakami's fiction reminds us the world is broad, that myths are universal — and that while we sleep, the world out there is moving in mysterious and unpredictable ways." San Francisco Chronicle
"After Dark doesn't always hit the high notes, but it is, like Takahashi's music, straight-ahead jazz — with a quiet grace as likely to be overlooked as a snare shuffle." Los Angeles Times
"This strange, mesmerizing, spell-binding, voyeuristic novel is impossible to put down." Providence Journal
"After Dark is Murakami condensed. It's a very good place to become familiar with some of his interests (music) and themes (loneliness) in a truncated version. Nevertheless, do not neglect his rich, dense metaphysical novels." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"To readers unfamiliar with Murakami, After Dark may be the perfect place to start. All of the touchstones are there, the mix of physical and metaphysical, the blending of cultures, the imaginative story lines that are impossible to predict." Denver Post
"In Murakami's talented hands, After Dark emerges a tightly controlled narrative, carefully constructed in both time and place....We stay alert to exact detail on each page, within every frame. The result is palpable and enthralling." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Like a latter-day Walker Percy or Albert Camus, Murakami raises questions about perception and existence, though he feels no compunction to propose answers." Christian Science Monitor
With his trademark humor and psychological insight, Murakami's power of observation plays out in this sleek novel of encounters set in Tokyo during the witching hours between midnight and dawn.
About the Author
Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 and now lives near Tokyo. His work has been translated into thirty-eight languages. The most recent of his many honors is the Franz Kafka Prize.
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