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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

After Dark: Murakami After Midnight

After Dark is easily recognizable as a Haruki Murakami novel — it's a book that, much like the wee hours of the night it depicts, has a logic and flow all its own. Indeed, because Murakami's prose is often described as "dreamlike" or "ethereal," there is no better setting for a Murakami novel. I picked this up with some trepidation — it's a very short novel (clocking in at only 191 pages) that Murakami fans seem to like the least of all his work (it only averages 3.56 stars on Goodreads). But I really enjoyed it!

The story is about Mari, a 19-year-old girl who we first see reading at a Denny's just before midnight. Through the course of the night, Mari reconnects with an acquaintance named Takahashi, helps a Chinese prostitute who has been beaten by her trick, and generally begins to understand and reveal some things about herself that she never had before. The small hours of the morning are a perfect time for introspection — and, together with Takasashi, Mari begins to work out many of the problems that had resulted in her not being able to sleep in the first place.

One of those is her sister Eri — who has been sleeping for more than two months. She's not in a coma, she's just sleeping. Throughout the novel, we look in on Eri — literally. Murakami tells us that we're like a ghost floating above her bed, observing her. Mari regrets that she and her sister Eri aren't as close as they used to be and wonders how to save her from her sleep. Will she succeed? 

So, yes, by normal fiction standards, this is a weird novel. No, not everything makes sense. And so it's hard to explain exactly why it resonated with me. But it did. And it will for you too, if you're the kind of person who has ever laid in bed awake at night and had a ton of ideas that seemed great at the time, but utterly ludicrous under the glare of daylight. Yes, night has its own logic, and this novel drives that point home beautifully!

15 comments:

  1. I've still not read any Murakami. I hadn't heard of this one before but it sounds more appealing to me than his other books. Life does become strange when you are between sleeping and waking in the night.

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    1. It some ways, this one's the perfect introduction to Murakami - it's really short, so if you don't like him, the pain is minimal. But you will like him. You will!

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  2. My first Murakami and I loved it. Getting lost in a small city in Japan once, I headed straight for a Denny's to make a phone call! Luckily I knew about the Denny's and was able to find one with English speaking staff!

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    1. Ha - great story! I wouldn't have ever considered Denny's as a place to a) hang out and read, or b) get help when lost.

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  3. This is a fantastic book. I'm glad you liked it too. I've recommended it to a lot of people, but I'm not sure if any of those people gave it a try.

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    1. Yeah, I think I'm going to start recommending it as a good intro to Murakami (this being my third of his now). See below. :)

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  4. Interesting! I actually haven't read Murakami yet, but I've heard SO MUCH about him. Any suggestions for a first book to try of his?

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    1. You know, After Dark may actually be a good place to start. It's short and relatively straightforward, but you still get a taste of some of Murakami's signature weirdness. I hadn't read Murakami until last summer, and started with Norwegian Wood - which I loved, and may also be a good place to start as it's also short and even more straightforward.

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  5. I agree this is a curious novel. I've been asking myself why this novel at that particular time of his career. I came up with some explanations, but I can only speculate.

    He received great praises for KAFKA. It's the book that turned him into a cultural phenomenon here. I think he might have wanted to go back to basics and write what he loved first and foremost. Kind of taking a break in between KAFKA and 1Q84

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    1. Yeah, I think speculating about why a novelist wrote the novel s/he did at the time s/he did is an exercise in futility - like you say, it's only possible to speculate. But I'm glad Murakami did write this one - I think maybe a lot of the negative feelings about it stem from the fact that it's not another KAFKA.

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  6. I've just picked up Kafka and started listening to it (three cheers for lobrary audiobooks) and have fallen completely and utterly in love. This is my first Murakami and I'm wondering why it took me this long to get to him. I strongly suspect he might be added to my fave author list. Good to hear you liked this one - will add it to the "Greg Recommended this one" list

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    1. That's exactly how I felt after I read Norwegian Wood - my first Murakami - last summer. I read Kafka immediately after it, and was totally floored. He's freakin' awesome.

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  7. I read this book a few years ago and it completely confused/intrigued me. I love how he captured the otherwordliness of the city after dark. very cool.

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  8. I find that, lately, I am my most creative and get my best ideas in that 15-30 minute window after I first wake up in the morning and my head is negotiating its way out of dream-world into the day. I get it, cause at that stage, you don't have the tiny thoughts and simple worries of the day that can add up to so much and weigh heavy before your head hits the pillow again.

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  9. This story has as eerie quality taking place late at night in a busy city. Any regular night owl will relate to these characters on their midnight travels.

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