Translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin
Fiction, 2004 (Japan), 2007 (English translation)
Vintage International, mm pb, 243 p.
The midnight hour approaches in an almost empty all-night diner. Mari sips her coffee and glances up from a book as a young man, a musician, intrudes on her solitude. Both have missed the last train home. The musician has plans to rehearse with his jazz band all night, Mari is equally unconcerned and content to read, smoke and drink coffee until dawn. They realise they’ve been acquainted through Eri, Mari’s beautiful sister. The musician soon leaves with a promise to return. Shortly afterwards Mari will be interrupted a second time by a girl from the Alphaville Hotel; a Chinese prostitute has been hurt by a client, the girl has heard Mari speaks fluent Chinese and requests her help.I took this with me on our trip to Canada over the holidays. It’s a slim book but it took me much longer to read than I originally thought it would. This was largely due to jet lag, but I do think my enjoyment of the book suffered a little because of it. It’s the kind of book that you should get lost in for a few hours, not read in short snippets over several days. But I also didn’t really care for the “imaginary camera”, the “pure point of view”, that essentially narrates Eri’s sections of the story and that we are reminded of repeatedly.
Meanwhile Eri is at home and sleeps a deep, heavy sleep that is 'too perfect, too pure' to be normal; pulse and respiration at the lowest required level. She has been in this soporific state for two months; Eri has become the classic myth – a sleeping beauty. But tonight as the digital clock displays 00:00 a faint electrical crackle is perceptible, a hint of life flickers across the TV screen, though the television’s plug has been pulled.
Eri goes on sleeping in the single bed in the center of the room. We recognize the bed and bedclothes. We approach her and study her face as she sleeps, taking time to observe the details with great care. As mentioned before, all that we, as pure point of view, can accomplish is to observe - observe, gather data, and, if possible, judge. We are not allowed to touch her. Neither can we speak to her. Nor can we indicate our presence to her indirectly.I like the idea behind the story, of how ordinary things become something quite different in the night, and other typical Murakami themes like loneliness, isolation, and in this case it seemed he was maybe making some comment about the impersonal nature of technology, but in the end I think I like the concept more than the story itself. I still enjoyed several portions of the book, especially Mari and Takahashi’s interaction, but for me it wasn’t nearly as memorable as some of his other books that I’ve read like Kafka on the Shore (one of my highest-rated reads last year), Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (another favourite), or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, parts of which are still rattling around in my head over 4 years later.
I’d eventually like to read everything he’s written, or at least what’s been translated into English, so it was worth reading but it just didn’t make as much of an impression on me. See below, though, for some other bloggers' rave reviews, which range from love to dislike.
Review in The New York Times
Review in The Guardian
My Rating: 3/5
(#1 for 2008, Japanese Literature Challenge 2, Dewey's Books Reading Challenge, Reading Japan, Lost in Translation Challenge, What's in a Name Challenge -'Time of Day')
Also reviewed at:
Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
Stainless Steel Droppings
an adventure in reading
Tip of the Iceberg
Book Bird Dog
Life and Times of a "New" New Yorker
The Hidden Side of a Leaf (Even though her site is down, I'd saved the link and following Nymeth's idea, wanted to include it here. Dewey wasn't crazy about the writing style of Eri's sections either although she was intrigued by some of the aspects of Japanese culture that the story referred to. She also said, "[I]t’s true that this book doesn’t really leave me wanting to read any more Murakami, though I’m sure I’ll end up trying The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle." :(
If you subscribed to her blog, you can still read her review of After Dark in your feed reader).
Reminder: If you have read and reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.