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First of all, I think everybody should read ‘Norwegian Wood’. It’s not particularly vital that they understand it, but it would do them good to take a little trip down the back-alleys of frustrated love and deathly longing that Murakami is so good at writing about. Another reason they should read it, is because when they come to ‘After Dark’, they will appreciate the maturity of Murakami as an author and his mastery in the art of saying so much, with so little.

 

This is a novel I struggle to place. Murakami seems to straddle several genres, using different elements from each, enmeshing them in his own way to form a narrative that flows delicately from one character to the next. As the title suggests, the novel explores the strange nocturnal activities in the city of Tokyo. We are introduced to Mari, yet through her a string of other characters begin to form odd, disjointed relationships with one another.

Sometimes by past events, other times by chance and occasionally through indirect technological encounters, Murakami’s characters lead us through very personal, tragic and often unintelligible moments of their lives. This attempt at emulating Koji Suzuki is not uncommon; as Paul Auster demonstrated a similar, yet more subtle version of this in his novel ‘Travels in the  Scriptorium’. For example, Murakami’s way of making two seemingly unrelated characters interact with one another could be through a mobile phone (one character loses her phone, the other by chance discovers it in a supermarket and answers a call). Or one scene might end with a character watching a program, and the next begins with another character watching the same show.

As I read, I got a sense that this was a detective story that didn’t want to be solved. In fact, I think things are better that way with a story like this, where characters begin in a state of limbo and leave without much change in their status. It was refreshing to watch them get pulled into the ebb and flow of a fate they have no control over. They often found themselves in ridiculous situations like love hotels and 7/11’s, criss-crossing each other’s lives like busy city traffic, oblivious to the fact that they are part of a much bigger, chaotic storyline. These are characters that feel their lack of control, yet they can sense a frustration similar to theirs being suffered somewhere on the periphery of their ‘vision’. While the full moon turns their actions and intentions into lunar paranoia; the characters themselves enjoy being on the edges of sanity. By no means are these characters incapable of happiness, it is fully in their means to be so. Yet it is the choices they make that put them in the position they are in.

Murakami has offered up an intense, yet deliciously frustrating plot due to its lack of a good ending. There are many questions left unanswered in the reader’s mind, and I think this was intentional on the author’s behalf. The narrative also changes form, veering from a ghost-story to a crime novel, and then hitting the well-known notes of a classic Japanese horror story. It is in fact neither of these, but the expert use of them in subtle, suggestive ways that enable a reader to create their own answers to the questions.

This short novel will stay with you for a long time, often making you wonder just how he did it.

I give this 4/5 stars.

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