After Dark

afterdarkBook :: After Dark (アフターダーク ) by Haruki Murakami (Japan) :: Alfred A. Knopf (US), May 2007
In a contemporary Japanese urban setting, presumably Tokyo, Mari Asi, an introverted young 19 year old, misses her last train home on purpose, preferring to spend the night reading in the anonymity of the night. Mari suffers under the weight of a secret, one she can not deal with. Throughout the night, she is confronted with others who all bear a cross. Through the common loneliness of the night, she finds some solace, some strength to deal with the reality of day.

What is remarkable about After Dark, is the uncommon narrative – not only does the novel follow the night chronologically in “real-time” (roughly, depending on the speed of your reading), but the author addresses the reader personally, taking him or her by the hand into the scene, as if our eyes are fixed to a floating camera which can be moved around. He does not hesitate to remind us of our helplessness as a fly-on-the-wall investigating the scenes but powerless to help the characters. We are taken along a tour of details both relevant and not, finding clues as to the scenes we are witnessing. The narrative-form has both an intimate and distant effect, as we find ourselves in the story but somewhat removed from the characters. These scenes are alternated with metaphysical scenes, which conjure the fear and estrangement of the hidden mirror-world of Mari. These scenes are not the uncompromising success of the book, but they do bring us closer to the thoughts and worries of Mari.

On her nightly escapade, Mari bumps into a vague friend of her sisters, the skinny, trombone-playing Takahashi who, at his turn, has her help-out the big ex-pro-wrestling love-hotel manager Kaoru. The night-time exposes the roughness of life and the kindness of strangers as only a tired darkness can. The night is portrayed as that slow time in which reality mixes with illusion, where secrets are guarded as crown jewels or given at the whim of the moment. It is a time where normal rationality does not play. It is a world with but a vague similarity to the daytime, marked by the shadows of the insomniacs. It is a time and place where the remaining working souls labour to their hearts content, and the others are freed from the constraints of productivity to linger or play. It is a calm but cruel world frozen in prose in After Dark.

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