A 19-year-old woman named Mari Esai sits in a Toyko Denny’s at midnight, alone, reading a book. There she would have remained had she not been interrupted by a young man named Takahashi, who remembers meeting Mari with her sister, Eri, a while back. Over the course of the night, Takahashi draws Mari out of herself.
After Dark by Haruki Murakami is more of a meditation than a story. There is a plot, but it’s merely there to give the characters a reason to interact. And it’s through those interactions that we get a glimpse of these people of the night. There’s Mari, the high-achieving student; an unnamed Chinese prostitute who gets beat up; Shirakawa, the man who does the beating; Kaoru and Korugi, the women who run the Alphaville, the “love hotel” where the beating occurs; Mari’s beautiful sister, Eri, who is sleeping at home; and the mysterious man with a masked face who watches Eri sleeping.
There’s something about the night that allows people to let down their guard, and Murakami’s characters find that, in the night, they can share their true thoughts. Characters discuss their lives and loves, their fears and fantasies. They act on their impulses, and certain aspects of their natures that may be hidden in the day are revealed.
This was my first experience reading Murakami, and I loved the world that he created. His crisp, clear writing is filled with nice details that allow you to really place yourself there with the characters. It’s great descriptive writing. At times, the deep conversations about the meaning of life went on too long for me, but, really, such conversations always seem long and tedious if you’re not actually involved. And nighttime seems to lend itself to such talks, so it feels right. I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of Eri’s situation, but I think that’s intentional—and impossible to explain to someone who hasn’t read the book. I’ll just say there’s a touch of the surreal about it (and that’s the bit of the story that has continued to haunt me).
I’ve observed before that I tend to enjoy more plot-heavy books on audio, but After Dark is an exception. It works surprisingly well in this format. Some of that may have to do with the fact that so much of the book is dialogue. Also, at 5 hours, 44 minutes, the book almost takes place in real time.
I know Murakami has lots of fans in the blogosphere, so I’m hoping some of you can tell me how After Dark compares with the rest of his work. Any thoughts?