May 11, 2010

[Books] After Dark

After DarkHaruki Murakami became one of my favorite articles after one of my best professors in college introduced me to his books. I'll forever be grateful to her for going above and beyond just teaching a basic writing class. She turned it into a whole lot more as enriched by some major pieces of good modern literature.

Murakami's books are far from easy to comprehend when you get down to it. His characters are diverse and highly unusual such as psychic prostitutes and men dressed as sheep. His plots are bizarre and sometimes disturbing whether it involves a mad search for a missing cat or a plot to destroy the world.

But what is always consistent is his particular style and approach to putting these stories together. He has an amazing gift for alternative description techniques. Plus he really knows how to build characters and establish amazing stories through dialog. Seriously, I envy him for the kind of scenes and conversations he manages to create. Plus there's the genius that is Jay Rubin, who manages to translate Murakami's words while somehow preserving his genius prose.

After dark / Haruki MurakamiImage by lalagonca via Flickr

After Dark is one of the less unconventional novels but still one of his very good ones. As always it's set within an indefinite contemporary setting in a world that is not quite the same as our own.

The story starts with the chance meeting of Mari and Takahashi at a Denny's one night. He insists that he's an acquaintance of her sister Eri and the two continue on with an interesting yet awkward conversation while Mari tries to finish her book. This somehow leads to Mari being asked to help translate for a Chinese prostitute who gets beat up at a love hotel owned by a former female wrestler, who is a friend of Takahashi somehow.

Oh, and Eri is being watched in her sleep by a mysterious man on the other side of a TV screen. Yeah, just one of those things.

The story is presented in real-time, as evidenced by the clock face that begins every chapter. Sometimes a few minutes pass. Sometimes an hour slips by. Whatever the duration, the story moves forward and we jump between the different characters and learn their individual stories. Of course each individual is highly unique and have their own complicated tales to tell and the unique series of events that bring all of them together feels more like a mystery tale of sorts where we as readers are drawn along every step of the way. We all wrack our brains to try and figure out what exactly is going on and unearth the secrets laced throughout the course of the plot.

Sure, this is not one of Murakami's more surreal pieces, and that may be a good thing. It's a lot more grounded in contemporary reality and this makes it a good introductory piece for someone wanting to get into Murakami's novels. It's definitely how I'm going to recommend this book to you and to my other friends who have yet to experience the world of wonder that is Murakami's fictional realities.

The book was pretty steady in its pacing, at least for me, and I didn't find myself hoping things would move faster. Despite its brevity compared to longer Murakami novels, it's filled with many interesting plot tangents and quirky characters who all play some role in presenting what he has to say. There's a strong notion of a theme about feeling like an outsider or being pushed out of the comforts of your life by extenuating circumstances and it plays out pretty well in the book.

After Dark is a simple yet striking tale and another great addition to any Murakami library. It gets 4 uneaten tuna sandwiches out of a possible 5.

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