After Dark – Book Review

Two young policemen patrol the street with tense expressions, but no one seems to notice them. The district plays by its own rules at a time like this. The season is late autumn. No wind is blowing, but the air carries a chill. The date is just about to change. -From After Dark, page 4-

Haruki Murakami’s novel After Dark takes place in Tokyo between the hours of midnight and 7:00 AM. The story centers around Mari – a teenager who stays up all night, seemingly to avoid a situation at home where her beautiful sister lays sleeping and will not wake up. The reader gets to see Eri – the sister – sleeping deeply for much of the book. There are other characters…Takahashi, a young muscian who knows both sisters from a date several years ago; Shirakawa, a business man with a dark and violent side; and the madam and her girls from a “love house.” The characters cross paths in an almost dream-like way throughout the novel, revealing small parts about themselves and creating more questions than answers.

Murakami’s prose is script-like with a camera’s point of view. Told in the present tense, it reads like a screenplay. Thematically the novel seems to be exploring the dark (or hidden) side of human nature vs. what we choose to let others see in the light of day. Nothing seems to be defined, however.

Takahashi swings his trombone case from his right shoulder to his left. Then he says, “It’s not as if our lives are divided simply into light and dark. There’s a shadowy middle ground. Recognizing and understanding the shadows is what a healthy intelligence does. And to acquire a healthy intelligence takes a certain amount of time and effort…” -From After Dark, page 226-

Unfortunately, Murakami leaves things mostly in the shadows and the effort to find the answers feels elusive.

I did not enjoy this book, although I wanted to. Much of the story is odd and dislocated. There are almost no answers to any of the questions posed. I closed the book feeling not only removed from the characters, but not caring about them one way or the other.

Murakami fans seem to love this one – and if you enjoy magical realism and Murakami’s style, you might want to give it a go.

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    • Lezlie on October 28, 2008 at 08:20

    Oh, good. You used the term “magical realism”, too. 🙂 I wasn’t sure I was using the term correctly when I wrote my review, but I couldn’t think of any other way to describe it.

    I liked the book and I still find myself thinking about it every once in a while, but I can absolutely see where it would not be on everyone’s list of “bests”. Or even “OK” lists, for that matter. 🙂


    • raych on October 28, 2008 at 08:58

    I’m reading his ‘Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’ and yes, same thing. Loads of loose ends, lots of wandering about, very poetic but I’m not sure I can finish all 600 pages of it.

    • Andi on October 28, 2008 at 09:15

    I’m sorry to hear you didn’t like this one. I’m still relatively new to Murakami’s work having only read Norwegian Wood and After Dark. I have a penchant for ambiguous novels, so this one was right up my alley. If you want something less surreal and perhaps a little meatier with more answers, try Norwegian Wood. It was a great one.

    • Laura on October 28, 2008 at 10:17

    Thanks for this review, Wendy. I’ve often felt I “should” read this book. However, I’m not a big fan of magical realism. And after reading your review, I don’t need any more convincing to pass on this book!

    • Anna on October 28, 2008 at 19:37

    I’ve seen mixed reviews about this one. It sounds good, but I think I’ll pass on it for now. Thanks for the honest review!

    • Wendy on October 29, 2008 at 08:02

    Lezlie: Well, someone in one of my book groups actually told me this isn’t really magical realism…*shrugs* Glad you liked it. I think I am just not into this genre.

    Raych: Oh drat – I am supposed to read that one next month for a book group and I am dreading it! I’m giving it the 50 page try, but if it is just like this one, I won’t finish it!

    Andi: This is definitely ambiguous (good description!)

    Laura: I know what you mean about feeling as though you “should” read something. I’m giving Murakami one more try next month…but, I have a feeling he is not an author I can relate to.

    Anna: You’re welcome 🙂

    • Linda Sheehan on November 1, 2008 at 13:58

    We agree Wendy!! (not always..LOL) After loving Kafka on the Shore and not wanting it to end I find that After Dark paled for me; nor could I finish Wind UP Bird Chronicle (however much I wanted to love it). I won’t give up tho’. I think he is magical but they can’t all be winners, I guess. Linda/Mostly Books

    • Wendy on November 1, 2008 at 20:01

    Linda: LOL – I really hope I can finish Wind Up Bird Chronicle…if I can’t, I think I’ll give up on Murakami!

    • Rhinoa on November 2, 2008 at 05:41

    I keep seeing this around and wanting to read it but haven’t taken the plunge yet. It’s a shame you didn’t enjoy it as the premise sounds wonderful.

    • Wendy on November 3, 2008 at 08:40

    Rhinoa: I really wanted to like it – but I think I’m not much of a mystical realism person.

    • Pablo on April 22, 2009 at 18:45

    This book is the best thing that happened to me since World of Warcraft.

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