Finally, another book worthy of a 5-star rating. Haven’t read one of these really good ones in a while… where to begin? Murakami has always been one of my favorite authors. I have, for quite a while now, admired his intrinsic way of capturing human morality and the intricacies of the world through his naturally flowing prose and satisfyingly odd characters. I would typically say Norwegian Wood is my favorite novel of his, but after finishing After Dark, it’s safe to say that the former has found itself a contender.
After Dark by Haruki Murakami is a literary portrait of several characters in Tokyo, Japan whose lives loosely interweave onto one another during the course of one “nocturnal milieu” (as The Guardian perfectly put it)—the transitioning hours between midnight and dawn. Suffice it to say, points of action are rare due to the limited time and space available for Murakami to play around with in this kind of setting: a localized portion of the city during the late hours after dark. The book starts:
“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.”
In the most Murakami-esque way possible, and through this visual introductory mood-setter, Murakami subtly enforces the major themes of the novel: the detrimental value of time and the individualistic gravity of collectivism. The story kicks off just right before midnight when the city begins to rest and people retire to sleep—this state of the ordinary might be the case for everyone else but not to some who choose to stay awake during the wee hours of the day, where in boundaries between reality and metaphysics start to blur.
The scene opens at Denny’s, enter Mari, a young, quiet student passing time with an unnamed book on hand in the company of caffeine and the darkness surrounding her. Her reading, then, is later interrupted by the chatty Takahashi, a charismatic trombonist who involves her into a series of philosophical, bordering on existential, casual conversations. Eventually, he leads her away into a seemingly out of the ordinary post-midnight journey that primarily consists of a minor crime in a 24-hour love hotel, and fast forward to a few more chapters, they resume their conversation in an after dark stroll around the place, and then Mari comes back to the love hotel where she finds herself napping at just before the morning began.
Chapters alternate between the events of Mari’s whereabouts and somewhere not far away—Mari’s house, where we watch her sister Eri deep in a peaceful slumber… or not? These chapters are where Murakami injects nuances of magical realism, as we witness Eri travel to this strange, otherworldly dimension which the television apparently provides access to.
Note the irony here, where the eerily strange circumstances are masked within an environment of normalcy—specifically, the murder in a love hotel and the idea of traveling through the dimensions of the unconscious via a television screen during sleep, with Murakami it’s always a playful balance between real life and the magical, the normal and the peculiar. But he does this in a very smooth and subtle way, what is unusual is always written in a nonchalant, ordinary tone as if a Man with No Face watching you sleep through a television screen is normal.
There is something uniquely provoking in the act of observing the city during the hours between midnight and dawn, and it’s the kind of feeling I’ve always struggled to put my finger on. It’s a sentiment of fulfillment, complemented by the satisfying hum of silence as you look down upon the empty streets and sometimes you see a stranger crossing the road alone, and you think to yourself, well, you are alone watching the world right now, too, but because of that person right there, you don’t feel so alone anymore. You look up at the surrounding buildings and see the lights going in and out of the hundreds and thousands of apartment windows, and you can’t help but wonder, what kind of lives do people inside of these apartments lead? That you’ll never know, but it keeps you curious.
Just imagine how much of this world, and of other people’s lives, you don’t, and never, will know. Momentarily, you sink back to yourself and realize you are but an individual part of this collective group that consists of billions of people and you’re simply one of them, just one, but your existence makes up a small portion of that group and isn’t that amazing?
Upon finishing After Dark by Haruki Murakami, I feel like I’ve finally found an unexplainable conclusion to the above train of thought I’ve always had whenever I find myself up so late past midnight. It’s an individualistic feeling of community, I am here and I exist but so does everyone else around me. In After Dark, we see several individual characters come together during the wee hours of dark and it’s extremely climactic to watch their lives intertwine with one another, even for just a limited and temporary amount of time. Murakami even suggests the plurality of the narrator, using “we” and “us”, to further involve the reader into the experience. After Dark isn’t just a typical story but a literary canvas made up of the author, the fictional characters, and the reader. It suggests a collective experience both internally and externally and that’s why I find this book to be so beautiful, and possibly one of Murakami’s best works.