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.