I’ve never read anything by Haruki Murakami but I’ve seen his name a lot lately. Looking him up at the library I found his novel After Dark. Not having any clue about Mr. Murakami‘s style or the subject of the story, I inserted the audio book with much anticipation. I popped that CD right in.
Taking place during the wee hours of one night when most people are sleeping, we are told from the very beginning that we are mere observers into the story – a bird flying above or a solitary camera. The narration begins objectively to find nineteen year old Mari Asai reading alone in a Tokyo Denny’s. She is approached by college student Takehashi, a part time jazz trombonist who reminds her that he has met her and her model sister Eri before. This chance meeting drags Mari into a virtual foreign world far from her suburban life. Fluent in Chinese, Mari soon finds herself in a “love hotel” helping a Chinese prostitute who had just been beaten. As the night continues, she becomes familiar with the hotel’s staff and not only learns their secrets, but confesses her own. Many of Mari’s secrets relate to her insecurities surrounding her beautiful sister.
During Mari’s story, Mr. Murakami reminds us that we are just observers as we frequently visit Mari’s sleeping sister Eri. We learn later that Eri has been sleeping for two months and no one knows why. And frankly, neither do I. Mr. Murakami takes the reader on a bizarre journey from Eri’s sleeping room, into a television set with a man with no face. Uh, ok.
The camera also jumps into the life of the man who beat the Chinese prostitute. Not a very interesting man, he works a lot of hours at a company while his wife dutifully waits for him at home.
I found After Dark very odd. The individual stories were compelling enough to hear through to their respective conclusions, and the third party observer perspective was unique. Although not giving any obvious insight into the actual thoughts of the characters, I was able to form my own judgments based on their dialogue and actions.
After traveling through the book as a simple observer, my take away is the story of the two sisters, one who deeply cares for the other. I also enjoyed the Tokyo setting and little American references – the Denny’s where the story begins and the mention of Hall & Oates on the sound system.
Once in a while I am interested in broadening my horizons to challenge myself. I’m not giving up on Mr. Murakami, he has received accolades for his work. Maybe after experiencing a couple more books, I will come back to After Dark and say “A-ha, of course!”