It is two minutes to midnight, the beginning of a new day. At that hour, according to our narrator, city functions by its own rules, and the bartender, just seemingly some character passing by, says: “Time moves in it special way in the middle of the night. And there’s nothing we can do about it.” Indeed, what is so magical after dark to bring the city of millions to just a handful of characters? What sort of magic does the Haruki Murakami weave into his words in this short novel?
To many, what feels like a completely pointless novel, unnecessary perhaps, is actually a masterfully crafted literary puzzle which only rare masters can put together. Every sentence, every highlighted detail, all of that has its meaning. A purpose. Even the characters, which look unrelated at first, are connected more than it meets the eye.
Several characters have their destinies intertwined in the course of one night without them realizing that. They even cross paths at specific points, and every action has its reaction so really, nobody is there by accident.
Eris was the girl who chose to sleep so she can rest, but the problem is she did it two months ago, and she’s not waking from her deep sleep except sometimes when all others in the house are sleeping. Even then she’s not awake in the real sense, more like sleepwalking and doing the basic need by automatism. One might say that she’s Murakami’s Sleeping Beauty. To her, the dream is another world, it’s where she’s crossing borders between real and unreal. In this real world, she’s alienated anyway, isolated from others, living the lonely life despite her family loving her. It’s enough to see her desk, full of pictures containing only her.
Shirakawa. To some, a man who doesn’t need service of a prostitute. To others, he looks like a creepy maniac who beats them. Neither of them is wrong. In reality, a programmer who runs away from his family. A man who has brutally beaten a Chinese prostitute in a love hotel and stole her clothes because he had to.
There’s also Mari, Eris’s sister. One of Murakami’s travellers through the night. She’s sitting in a diner, all by herself, reading a thick book with no visible title. She wants to be left alone, thinking of her life while preparing for a trip for China as an exchange student. Like Eris, she’s alienated, but in her own way. Two sisters, same life, completely different persons.
Takahashi is a law student who plays the trombone in a jazz band. He doesn’t think of himself as good enough to create, according to him he’s missing that special something, but others disagree. Like other characters, he’s also lonely, isolated. Running away from his dreams of being a musician to the career of a lawyer and a boring marriage.
When he’s talking about them, Murakami is representing them just the way we would do it ourselves if we saw them. That’s why he’s describing their physical appearance, gradually revealing them as if he’s saying the old saying: don’t judge the book by its covers. Behind, there’s so much more. Dreams, desires, longings. Fugitives and drifters, loners and the lonely ones. Each man a world for himself, so different and yet so same.
With its structure and a narrative, this novel plays like an art movie dealing with specific topics (“Chunking Express “by Wong Kai-wai crosses my mind, or a “Spring, summer, fall, winter… spring “by Kim Ki-duk). This isn’t a novel that starts from the beginning, nor does it have the end. He begins in the middle of their lives, follows them through the night with the narrator as our guide and with morning, their mystical journey ends, but to call this novel passive would be an error. It needs full concentration to catch all the details and to tie all the threads of this magical, surreal fairy tale.
Because of the way he chose to guide us through the novel, Murakami somewhat distances us from the characters since we can’t read their thoughts and only see what he sees while following them like a cameraman. But in a way, he makes us closer to them, because he makes us think about their actions and their feelings and thoughts. So, to represent them fully to us, he steps away from his characters.
Multiple themes are present in the novel, usual ones which Murakami uses. Loneliness, solitude, alienation, lost dreams and after dark, a portal opens, connecting two worlds, blurring the borders and everything becomes real for those characters.
“After Dark “is a sort of metaphysical song, about walls inside and around people, delusions and illusions. Solitude and loneliness. A novel each of us can find him or her no matter how much we denied that.
- Original title: アフターダーク Afutā Dāku
- Translator: Nataša Tomić
- Pages: 148
- Publisher: Geopoetika
- Date of publishing: 2008.