Thursday, January 15, 2009

'After Dark'

by Haruki Murakami
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.

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.
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.
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
Save Ophelia
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.


  1. Too funny. I just finished reading this book as well. Great review!

  2. I think I liked it more than you. I did read it in about 2 sittings as opposed to snippets, so maybe that made the difference. My review is here.

  3. I've got this on my shelf waiting to be my first foray into the world of Murakami! I am very excited about Kafka on the Shore too. Great review, thanks!

  4. You covered a lot of challenges with just one book!

  5. I love Murakami's novels and like you said, I am planning to read all of his books too..Thanks for the great review. I'll soon start with Kafka on the Shore.

  6. Thank you for including my review!

    I've heard so many great things about his other books! I'm excited to get to it. I hope I can get at least one or two in before the end of 2009. So many books, so little time!

  7. Good review! I didn't really like this book - my review is here. :)

  8. I've heard a lot of fans say this isn't one of his best, but I've seen some very enthusiastic reviews too. I'll have to pick it up and see what I think.

    I have Hardboiled Wonderland waiting on my shelf, and if I get to it before the end of the month it'll count for the Japanese Lit challenge still...I hope I manage to!

  9. I haven't yet read this author, but I have read a few reviews that list this among his not so great novels. I doubt I will start with this one.

  10. You know, I think I am going to add Kafka on the Shore to my 'dangerous reading challenge' list - I've seen it at the library plenty of times but for some reason am a little intimidated by it. Maybe it's the Kafka thing ...

    Anyway, since you said it's one of your favorites, maybe I will give it a try - thanks!

  11. Amanda - Thanks. I'll be over to read your review. :)

    Sylvie - I didn't like it as much as some of his other books that I've read but it was worth reading.

    Terri B. - Thanks for your review Terri, I've added it above. I do think I would've liked it better if I could've just gotten lost in it for a while instead of constantly being interrupted by real life or falling asleep!

    mariel - You may love After Dark, but if not, don't let it discourage you from reading more by Murakami. Kafka on the Shore was great!

    Kailana - LOL. This one really did fit into a lot of challenges! Gotta love it!

    Happy Reader - Oh, have fun reading Kafka on the Shore. It's one I want to read again someday.

    saveophelia - You're welcome. I hope to read something else by Murakami this year as well but I know what you mean about never enough time!

    Wendy - Thanks for the link to your review. It's good to have a variety of opinions. :)

    Nymeth - I really want to read Hard-boiled Wonderland again sometime. I hope you manage to fit it in sometime soon and I'll be curious to hear what you think of it.

    Wendy (Literary Feline) - I'm glad I read it but I also don't think it compares to some of his other books. I'd suggest starting with Norwegian Wood, or maybe Kafka on the Shore.

    Lesley - I was intimidated by the Kafka in the title too since I haven't actually read anything by Kafka. I don't know if there is stuff in the book that relates to Kafka and that I would've picked up on otherwise, but even without any background knowledge, I thought it was a great read. And one of these days I will finally read Kafka himself. :)

  12. Hi: Just found your review of After Dark and thought you might want to link to mine. I read mine in a couple of sittings and focused more on the story than the technique! Good thing too. I was in Japan in March 2008 and got lost, headed straight for a Denny's restaurant, where the waitress made a phone call for me. Ha, ha. Happily, this was during the day, and not After Dark!

    My link is :

    Sorry, don't know how to do a proper link. A review of Natsuo Kirino's Real World is also on my blog. Hope you can take a look at it!

  13. Book Bird Dog - Hi, thanks for the link to your review, I've added it to the post above. That's funny that you have a Denny's in Japan story, so I guess you could relate a bit even though it wasn't 'after dark'. :P


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