Murakami, Haruki. After Dark.

NY: Knopf, 2007.

The city is unnamed but let’s call it Tokyo. It’s a couple minutes to midnight in an entertainment district. Mari Asai sits in a crowded second-floor Denny’s restaurant, reading a thick book with great intensity and sipping a single cup of coffee.

A tall, skinny young man comes in carrying a trombone, sees Mari, and realizes he’s met her before so he sits at her table. He tells her how he got into jazz, recounts his memories of her beautiful sister, Eri, and eats his chicken salad. And then he leaves to practice with his band.

Then we’re in Eri’s bedroom where she’s deeply asleep, unaware that her unplugged television is coming to life. The only photos in her room are of herself. After that, we’re with Mari again as she goes with Kaoru to a nearby love hotel where a young Chinese prostitute has been beaten by her john and left naked. Mari, who is more or less fluent in conversational Mandarin, acts as interpreter so Karou, the manager, can get the hooker cleaned up and back in the hands of her pimps. And she rides off on the back of a Honda.

Back in Eri’s room (she’s still sound asleep), the TV is now displaying the image of an exhausted-looking, dust-covered mystery man in a brown suit and a translucent mask. Who is he? How can he appear on a nonfunctioning TV set? No idea. But he seems to be looking out at Eri, in her bed. It’s after one o’clock now.

Mari and Kaoru have gone to a small bar for a drink (beer for Kaoru, Perrier for Mari, who says she “can’t drink”). We find out a bit more about Mari’s present life and plans for the future, and what it’s like for a not-plain girl to grow up with an older sister who’s drop-dead gorgeous.

. . . And the story progresses this way, chapter by chapter, with bits of unexpected dry humor dropped in here and there, as we follow the characters (one never-sleeping, one never-waking) in their journey toward dawn. At first, it all reads rather like a series of experimental writing exercises, the sort of thing where the teacher supplies an opening sentence or two and tells the class of would-be novelists to take it from there. (I’ve done those.) But you should persevere because as you get farther into it, the narrative begins bending time and space in an interesting and meditative way, dipping into metaphysics and questions of agency and causality. And there’s not really an ending in the Western wrapping-it-all-up sense. It’s not a long book, a little less than 200 pages, but not a word is wasted, and you’re going to find yourself stopping at intervals and marking your place with your finger while you think about what you’ve just read. Murakami is not for everyone (not even in Japan, I gather), but he’s worth the effort.

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Published in: on 25 March 2013 at 11:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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