Mari, a girl in her late teens, sits all by herself in a cafe sipping a cup of coffee and reading a novel, quite late into the night. A young jazz musician, on his way to a night out rehearsal session, stops by and makes quick conversation with Mari while helping himself to a sandwich. Later in the night Mari is called up by a large woman in a black woolen hat and orange pants to help a Chinese immigrant prostitute who has been beaten up by her client. And all of this happens whilst her sister Eri has been asleep for two months, such as in a state of coma. Another perfect setting for that quintessential Murakami novel – normal people amidst modern living often found transitioning between the physical and the meta-physical. And this is the exact heady concoction that ‘After Dark‘ is all about.
The book is divided into three main sub plots – the first one involving Mari and her experiences through the one night that she chooses to remain out of doors, the second and more surreal is the peacefully sleeping Eri who seems to keep moving between the current world and the world behind the unplugged television set in her room and third and the shortest of the man who beats up the Chinese prostitute. As the night slowly crawls towards dawn the characters that were so full of life, gradually recede into the morning glow.
Once again the exquisiteness of Murakami’s narration is experienced through the juxtaposition of realism against magic, of physics against the grey lines of meta physics.
We hear a faint electrical crackling, and a hint of life crosses the TV screen as it begins to flicker almost imperceptibly. Could someone have entered the room and turned on the switch without our noticing? Could a pre-set timer have come on ?
The setting of the scene is Eri’s room where she is shown to be peacefully asleep when suddenly the TV comes to life with a slight flicker on the screen. This occurrence can be completely justified in the world of magic realism, however Murakami gives the reader a chance to explore the scientific explanation before he is forced to submit to the meta physical. The same treatment is meted out again when the ‘Man with No Face’ materializes wearing a mask that covers the essential features of his face. Murakami writes
The mask possesses equal level of sorcery and functionality
And that is exactly how ‘After Dark’ has been conceptualized, with an equal level of mysticism and realism.
The beauty of the novel and in the methods of Murakami, lies in the commonality of the characters that are central to the novel which draws contrast to the back drop of surreal situations. Mari and Takahashi, the jazz musician, are just two young people trying to find their way through life and when they meet, their conversation is nothing out of the ordinary. The man who beat up the Chinese prostitute is an IT worker at night, a cold blooded man with criminal instincts yet one who lives an ordinary life. And of course, the cat makes its appearance, as I suppose will be in most of his books, probably Murakami’s favorite prop. But as the night progresses, the lives of everyone seem to lose their individualism and merge into one another. That perhaps, is the central theme of the novel. And as always, Murakami ends it with style,
The night has begun to open up at last. There will be time till the next darkness arrives.
My rating : 4.5 / 5
Buy it here After Dark by Haruki Murakami