Haruki Murakami’s novel After Dark, first published in Tokyo in 2004 and later translated into English for publication in Great Britain in 2007, is chock-full of mysterious and uniquely enigmatic imagery that can scarcely be found elsewhere. The voice and perspective of the narrator, which includes us the reader in its plural third-person overview of the events within this novel. This perspective successfully makes use of an entirely external view, and is not afraid to describe itself as the “midair camera” that it truly is. We become a “conceptual point of view devoid of mass” as Murakami guides us almost blindly through the happenings of one unsettled night in Tokyo. While it is at first quite jarring to exist as a perspective without an active body, Murakami holds our attention firmly throughout this short novel, and by the concluding line it feels almost unnatural to rise from our chair and use the limbs we forgot we possessed.
The young woman who is arguably our protagonist, Mari Asai, sits alone in a Denny’s late at night, unable to relax or sleep while her sister, Eri, spends her hours trapped in a seemingly endless slumber. We shift between the lives of Eri, who is stuck in her own mind behind a dead television screen that crackles with an “amplified sonic version of someone’s brain waves”, and Mari, who lives a fractured and anonymous life without direction. As the narrative progresses we learn more and more about the two sisters that have been thrust into this world halfway between life and death. It can be at times difficult to connect to these mystical, almost alien characters, but this distant half-made connection is the heart of Murakami’s works, especially so in After Dark. We are kept so separate from the characters that we end up seeing our own selves reflected in them, almost exactly how Eri views her life from the back of a television screen.
Eri reminds us distinctly of Sleeping Beauty, and she is exactly that; she sleeps, dreamless and beautiful, her hair “[cascading] across the pillow like a flood of dark water”, not caring or even able to care that the world and several soon-to-be connected lives continue to turn around her. She is “too pure, too perfect”, and her existence and role within this narrative consistently bewilders and entrances us until the very last page. Contrastingly, Mari attracts our attention for a very different reason; she is unpretty, less noticeable, and her attractiveness and her habits do not rival those of her more beautiful sister. But Mari is kind, too, and she cares for strangers—including, notably, a young prostitute from a notorious gang of sex workers who has been beaten by a client.
After Dark is a beautifully written and narrated novel, and it captures the lives of countless individuals through the perspective of a scarce few, all while it tackles issues that authors often avoid outright. Murakami, of course, is not afraid to put his best foot forward and tell the readers what is what. While Eri sleeps and forgets the world she has left behind, Mari helps the sleepless, listless individuals that exist in the witching hours. As they walk the streets of Tokyo, their lives often intertwining for mere pages at a time, the clocks that open every new chapter tick ever-forward through until the dawn of a new day.
Thanks for reading.
All quotations taken from After Dark, Haruki Murakami.