Every once in a while, I open a book, and get totally caught up in it. Haruki Murakami is one of few authors who consistently has this effect on me. After Dark is a night narrative with a difference – with a cinematic feel, rather than a literary one. The reader’s gaze is directed toward certain people, scenes, or places as if by an unseen narrator or camera operator. With constant reference to films, bands, and songs, the plot unfolds with an inbuilt pop-cultural soundtrack, adding to the noir feel.
At 200 pages, it’s pretty slim, but somehow manages to seem like much more than that. The characters are well developed, although this seems to happen gradually. It seems like more questions are asked than answered, but the pace is perfect, and the degree of emotion and awkwardness is spot on. If I had to compare this book to another form of media, it would be a toss-up between Jim Jamusch’s Night On Earth, and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.
Characters drift through downtown Tokyo. The narrator seems content to observe, noting the coincidences that throw them together, and the tenuous bonds they form. No judgements are made about anyone’s behaviour, or why it is played out in public spaces.
There is a faint undercurrent of urban loneliness and isolation, even a tinge of menace. The reader is exposed to the inner darkness inside each character, as well as the shadowy side of Japanese society. Lights flicker, salarymen work late, and all-night cafes buzz. Our gaze pans across convenience stores, cat-filled parks, love hotels and tv screens. Crime is committed, information is exchanged, and life goes on. Night is portrayed as a force, a presence which changes the way Tokyo is. In the hours when no trains run, and most people are sleeping, downtown is a very different place (to what you would find in daylight).
Haruki Murakami is describing the peculiarities of urban Japanese life, in a way guaranteed to maintain your interest. Read this book.