One of the literary giants of our time, this is a 2004 work from the legendary Haruki Murakami. It’s After Dark (アフターダーク—Afutā Dāku).
It was published in English for the first time in 2007 and is a slight 208 pages. Murakami does tend to push for high-concept ideas and big word counts. This isn’t quite on that scale—it’s also one of his works lacking sweeping critical acclaim.
Set in Tokyo over one night, Mari Asai is eating in a cafe when she’s approached by a softboi type of bloke.
Discussions range around her slumbering sister Eri, with much made of her beauty (particularly by softboi).
What follows is a tale of night owls, with individuals wrapped up in the twilight dark hours in a peculiar drama with plenty of metaphysical aspirations.
It’s a novella you have to read, rather than have someone explain to you. And it’s certainly not for everone. But it’s an intriguing journey that leads to a pretty divisive ending.
Murakami isn’t a writer we’re overly familiar with, despite his modern status.
We’ve steeped ourselves in Japanese literature over the last five years, but primarily in the likes of:
- Kenzaburō Ōe (A Personal Matter).
- Kakuzo Okakura’s Teaism happy The Book of Tea.
- Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows.
And the final author there has emerged as our favourite from the land of Nippon.
After Dark is far from Murakami’s most celebrated work. But it does mark deviations away from his typical story structures, making it an intrguing work from his canon.
after the quake is, for example, another take on Murakami’s style. But what After Dark as a novella does do is merge the mundane with the strange—on the verge of absurdity, but more in line with fantastical concepts.
Some could see this tale as convoluted and overly complex. That ending is still much debated.
But Eri Asai is a mixture of many things. Protagonist? Well, you decide. But the work is along the lines of a poem. In some respects. It’s free flowing. The dialogue between characters is clever and engaging.
Is it an allegory, maybe, of sleep? Of phenomenology?
Well, given some of the author’s imposing works it may strike you as one to start with if you’re not currently a fan of his.
And go for it, After Dark is fine and enjoyable. An introduction to a contemporary great—just brace for the closing sections.
One of many interesting facts about the writer is Murakami ignored much of the literature from his homeland. At least during his formative years.
He acknowledged that in the foreword to Penguin’s Book of Japanese Short Stories.
Instead of steeping himself in what we’ve read through in recent years, he looked to the West.
There’s a feeling we get that Kenzaburō Ōe did the same, as much of his work is along the lines of, for example, Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Age of Reason. A Personal Matter is similar in structure.
But no doubts Murakami remains a literary giant. IQ84, for example, is seen as a modern classic. But his work is for particular tastes—accessibility isn’t his major strength.
But then that’s the point. As after dark, you look around you and some things aren’t distinct. And Tokyo, for us in the West, is a confusing maze. A labyrinth of neon lights.
Japan’s bustling nightlife, so alien, is pretty and perturbing. And we think a writer such as Murakami can capture that in a way few others can.