“After Dark” by Haruki Murakami (Week 8 – Book a Week): A Good Place to Start

Generally, Murakami is easy to read.  That doesn’t mean the works careen through a jumble of cliffhangers rushing toward an unearned payoff.  His characters are soulful thinking people* who consider the world around them.  But they don’t spend an entire book sitting around considering.  That’s what makes the books easy to read, they move.  They include action and conflict.  The magical worlds in Murakami’s writing are not static museums for characters to explain; they are dynamic, mysterious places that are full of cats for some reason.

Murakami has written a lot of books, and the critics all have their favorites.  The ones at the top of the list tend to weigh in somewhere around 600 pages.  The Wind Up Bird Chronicle is my favorite because of a story about the Rape of Nanjing and a  frightening scene in an unholy waiting room.  Some prefer Kafka on the Shore, another heavyweight. This book tells a story about memory, nostalgia, and lust.  I have yet to read 1Q84, Murakami’s latest, but the reviews have been very strong.  All that said, I don’t think any of these books offers a great place to start.

Reading a book isn’t like watching a show or listening to music; it is necessarily active.  Other media offer the possibility of full engagement, but not the necessity**.  So, if you engage with an author for the first time, I think the most accessible work is a good place to start.  Shorter works are often the easiest to digest because they don’t have enough time to become convoluted and the reveals can’t be held back as long.  With that in mind, I would suggest starting with the novella After Dark.

The story takes place after most of Tokyo has decided to either go home or stay out all night.  In a city that many people travel to for work and study, the hour when the trains stop running is an important concern.  Tokyo’s downtown world isn’t a community where people live; it’s a center for labor.  Love hotels, bars, and chain restaurants become weigh stations for people who find themselves stuck downtown after the traditional working day is done.

These downtown people are far away from the many places they actually live in order to do something that they can’t do in normal society.  Their band wants to play loud, they are running from someone, or they are taking prostitutes to the little hotels made specifically for that purpose.  Some of them want to sneak outside of traditional society, and some have been forced out.

It’s easy to slide into the world of After Dark.  Maybe it’s natural for people stuck in a daytime world to seek transgression or relief from that world, but where they end up is not a soft, easy or necessarily happy place.  The things that happen there can be violent or invasive, and as the story goes on, the reader becomes implicated in the illicit deeds that occur.  Desires go unfulfilled, crooks don’t all get caught, and the reader is called out for watching.  But eventually, day breaks.  The book ends quickly, but the ideas remain, floating in the reader’s mind.  Like a strange night that you keep thinking about long after it’s over.

 

 

 

*Except for the occasional soulless demon.

**Video-gamers may wish to make an argument here, but it’s just not a medium I know enough about to talk about.