Monday, 2 July 2007

Haruki Murakami - After Dark (Review)

The first Murakami story I ever read, not very long ago in the grand scheme of things, was Super-Frog Saves Tokyo from his After the Quake collection. I loved it, and I’ve been a fan of Murakami’s writing ever since, but especially his short stories. A few people I know don’t get Murakami – ‘How can you take seriously a six-foot frog as a central character?’ they say. To which I say, ‘How can you not?!’

After Dark is a very short novel, almost an extended short story, so I was sure I was going to really like it. The action takes place over the course of a single night in a city ‘like a single gigantic creature’. During this night we are going to meet nineteen year-old Mari, her sleeping sister Eri, a young man called Takahashi and Kaoru, the retired female wrestler and currently manager of a love hotel, together with sundry peripheral characters. There are all living their lives in the darkness of the night, ‘when everybody’s supposed to be asleep’. It is an alien environment, as alien as being under water.

The novel is narrated in the first person plural, often as if through a camera. We have the characters under surveillance, even the sleeping Eri. At the love hotel, we watch CCTV images of a ‘guest’ who has beaten up a Chinese prostitute and later, on the same screen, watch Creatures of the Deep along with several of the characters. We see ‘weird deep-sea creatures. Ugly ones, beautiful ones. Predators, prey’. Geddit? One of the characters moves from one side of the TV screen to the other, and mirror images remain in the mirror long after the reflected character has departed. This is Murakami, after all.

But I have to say I read the novel with a degree of disappointment. Maybe that’s because of my own unrealistic expectations. I think it just wasn’t surreal enough for me (after a throwaway comment by Takahashi I was expecting a giant octopus to appear – sadly, it never did. Or did it . . . ?). Nevertheless, the story is always interesting and the ending nicely satisfying. I was expecting a truly great novel from one of my favourite authors, but After Dark is just very good.


Delbert said...

I thought this one wuz a bit below standard.

Mary Witzl said...

I like Murakami, but I have to be in a certain mood to appreciate him. And while I cannot say that I like everything he has written, what I do like, I like very much.

Paul said...

Delbert - I began to feel a little disappointed about halfway through, but then things fell into place more and I really enjoyed the second half.

Mary - I know what you mean about being in the right mood. I began Kafka on the Shore in the wrong mood and couldn't read it first time round! But I think his writing (even in translation - wish I could read Japanese!) is wonderful.

Kanani said...

Oh. I'm so glad you've reviewed this. My writing group recently chose Murakami as one of the writers they'd like most to have over for a mai tai.

So I read one of his books and I loved his fearlessness when it came to playing with the setting, and thinking up truly original details. And then I spilled a glass of milk over the whole book and it was rather ruined. So I never finished it. I went to the library and someone had stolen "Norwegian Woods." Yesterday I almost bought it, but was short the cash.

So right now, I'm waiting for a black cat to walk up to me and tell me the rest of the story... but mine seems to be eating pizza right now.

Paul said...

Kanani - can't you get your library to re-order Norwegian Wood to replace the stolen one? Better still, see if they have After the Quake or Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman - his short stories are simply great (imho).

Ben said...

As soon as After Dark came out, I ran out to buy a copy - my first reaction being that I was a little disappointed that the book was so short. This isn't a comment about Murakami's longer novels or short stories, but rather the time I'd be able to spend in that world would be shorter.

My favourite of Murakami's books are Kafka on the Shore and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, but this is only by a tiny amount, as I love his work so much.

As soon as I started this book, I felt like I'd dropped down a rabbit hole into this world, and I read it in one sitting on a plane. To say I really enjoyed it would be to say that Henri Cartier-Bresson was 'quite a good photographer'. Both miss the mark hugely.

I blogged a little about how I tend to explain why I like his work, and which always sounds trite and stupid. All I do now is say "read one". I can tell those that feel the same way as me, and for some people it doesn't resonate so much.