Translated from Japanese by Jay Rubin.
A short, episodic novel set during a single night from midnight to dawn, After Dark begins with Mari, a young student reading alone at a Denny’s in an anonymous city, probably Tokyo. Her solitude is broken by Takahashi Tetsuya, a young trombone player who claims to have a common acquaintance with Mari, her older sister Eri Asai. Through the rest of the night the novel follows Mari’s encounters with Takahasi and other people, all awake during the night, caught in their own circumstances. There is also Eri Asai, a beautiful model caught in an extended sleep, and her connection to a businessman struggling with the aftereffects of his actions.
The narrative is temporal, with each chapter taking place at a precise time. The prose is sharp, hypnotic, detailed and mystical – the events are being narrated by a mysterious, collective “point-of-view”, a neutral observation. There is a cinematographic quality to it, with detailed descriptions and precise, sometimes abrupt, movements of the “point-of-view” through the city, from one place to the next. It lends the story an enigmatic and uneasy feel.
The novel is somewhat characteristic of magical realism with its touch of other-worldliness in a normal, real world; a heightened awareness of mystery; authorial reticence, etc. Though the novel has no plot, seems to have no purpose, it still captures our attention. It’s not a novel for the purpose of entertainment or escapism, rather to pause and mull over the events and circumstances of the characters. It asks questions, but doesn’t answer them. The characters’ conversations are sometimes non-sequitur, and range from the mundane to the philosophical, forcing us to pause and reflect, to dwell on what is happening and what is not, even if we ourselves can’t find an answer.
One of the stronger themes seems to be alienation in a modern world, a metropolis. Alienation of the reader from the story; alienation of the two sisters from the world, each other and themselves; alienation of Mari from the other people she encounters who are so different from her. And despite it, the inexplicable and surprising things that make for common grounds and lead to a connection, an understanding between two people. The novel also explores the idea of mysterious and nocturnal things that lurk around during the night, and hover at the edges of our worlds.
This was my first Haruki Murakami work and probably a good, short introduction to a kind of writing that has captured my attention. I hope I read more of his works. After Dark is a mysterious novel with wonderful writing and I really liked it.