REVIEW: After Dark by Haruki Murakami

The moniker is usually associated with the Big Apple, but in his 2004 short novel, Tokyo as depicted by Murakami could also be captioned ‘The city that never sleeps.’  

Amid the exposed underground elements of the neon-lit, bustling metropolis such as noise-filled garages, 24/7 diners, eerie office blocks and love hotels, is Mari, an average teenager spending her night reading in an all-night café. She’s the maypole of the story, with a solar system of the bizarre circling her; she crosses paths with the trombone player Takahashi, a female ex-wrestler who now runs a love hotel, a Chinese prostitute and the mystery man who battered and abandoned her.The accompaniment of jazz standards weaved in through the novel, softens the eeriness of the nocturnal setting and situations Mari finds herself in, and connects the dots that are the characters with something as simple and innocent as a hum or a whistle.

The action progresses slowly through the course of one night, dripping with events that readers can follow through the hours the merciless clocks (drawn at the start of each short chapter) strike. In his usual style sprinkled with magical realism, Murakami blends the ordinary with the uncanny so well, the reader feels as if constantly treading between reality and dream; Mari shares her family secret with Takahashi over chicken salad, unaware of the struggles her sister Eri (in a peculiar coma) is facing in an unknown, surreal realm she is sucked into while sleeping. The omniscient narration lets the reader in on the real mystery and strangeness of the plot by zooming in on Eri, the only element of the story that seemingly remains unawake and still, but is in fact being abducted by an alien force.

Whoever has read Murakami before will know his novels never progress at a linear, regular pace. There has to be enough room for existential musings, seemingly mundane dialogue and poetic descriptions. Although Murakami doesn’t always choose the shorter form, After Dark is the perfect proof of its utility – the author transports us to sleepless Tokyo for one night only, and it’s all we really need.

At the crack of dawn, readers may expect an explanation to the events that kept them up all night, but as always with Murakami, nothing is straightforward.

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