3:31 pm Sit down on my brown couch that looks out over the Hollywood sign and begin to read Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, After Dark, which clocks in at a slim 208 pages.
3:32 Drink water.
3:34 Realize the book is told in the present tense in a single night, with each chapter bearing a clock showing the hour, and decide to write a review that mirrors this real-time technique.
3:40 Admire Murakami for attempting to write a plural first-person narrator that seems to be a sentient camera: “We are sheer point of view . . . our viewpoint takes the form of a midair camera that can move freely about the room.”
3:41 Dislike Murakami for attempting to write a plural first-person narrator that seems to be a sentient camera.
3:43 Laugh because the first chapter includes doppelgangers, tiny bikinis, jazz music, a story within a story, American icons (Denny’s), and unrevealed and mysterious names—all familiar Murakami leitmotifs. Despite the familiarity, he manages to make each book seem new by the way he tweaks the motifs.
3:50 Realize that in After Dark Murakami achieves his double-world theme, which is drawn most sharply in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and is present throughout much of his oeuvre, by repeatedly emphasizing the otherworldly quality of the neighborhood at night, as opposed to the day. Hence the title, After Dark, which is also a reference to the jazz song “Five Spot After Dark.”
3:53 Find that Murakami’s divided physical world is also reflected in the divided psychological world of his characters. Splitting character psyches is hardly a new technique, except that in After Dark every single character seems to have a doppelganger—a “night” side to balance the “day” side—whether in a sibling or a stranger. It’s almost too neat. But more importantly, these split personas function as much more than excavations of internal struggles—the journey to identify these doppelgangers and discover who mirrors whom is actually the way that the story evolves.
3:57 Am far enough in the book to sketch out a skeleton plot: Mari stays out all night in the city because her sister Eri has been sleeping at home for two months and won’t wake up, and during this all-nighter Mari helps a wounded prostitute and encounters a trombone-playing friend of her sister’s. Side-stories are the Chinese pimps who send mean-spirited motorcyclist messengers and a businessman who brutalizes the prostitute, both of which are meant to serve as odd metaphors of the sleeping sister’s story.
3:58 Discover that it’s 3:58 am in the book, and it’s also 3:58 here (pm). Marvel at the coincidence—I mean fate. Wonder whether I am in a universe of light while the characters are in a parallel universe of night.
4:13 Find Orwellian references cropping up—first an explicit reference, followed by the use of cameras to catch a criminal (as well as the camera narrator), and expanded upon by a Man with No Face who ominously watches—without blinking or turning his head—the sleeping sister (Murakami explicitly references Sleeping Beauty, but the Man with No Face also reminds me of Sartre’s gaze). Love the section where a character compares show trials to an octopus:
Like, say, an octopus. A giant octopus living way down deep at the bottom of the ocean. It has this tremendously powerful life force, a bunch of long, undulating legs, and it’s heading somewhere, moving through the darkness of the ocean. I’m sitting here listening to these trials, and all I can see in my head is this creature. It takes on all kinds of different shapes—sometimes it’s “the nation,” and sometimes it’s “the law,” and sometimes it takes on shapes that are more difficult and dangerous than that . . . and this creature, this thing doesn’t give a damn that I’m me or you’re you. In its presence, all human beings lose their names and their faces. We all turn into signs, into numbers.
Or, if extended metaphors aren’t your style, there are a few pages of dialog written like a play, in which characters reference the monitoring state rather baldly:
Kaoru: “You never know when there’s a camera watching you these days.”
Komugi: “The walls have ears—and digital cameras.”
4:27 Begin to worry that this book will not contain any cats, which would upend everything I thought I knew about Murakami.
4:29 Read about main characters tenderly feeding stray cats in a park. Wipe sweat off brow.
4:33 Realize that although Murakami is renowned for using a similar male protagonist in every book—a drifting and isolated man—this book actually has central female characters. But even though the female characters occupy center stage, many of them are underpowered and abused by males: a prostitute is beaten and a woman imprisoned. A mythic notion of gender, really, is where the underlying power of this novel comes from: oppressed women struggling to escape from sinister men.
4:46 Think about the ending but decide not to give it away because it would make my readers angry.
4:49 Renege on that idea and decide to reveal huge spoiler: there are coincidences.
4:58 Conclude that the book is philosophically intriguing in the way it deals with time and the haunting, omnipresent eyes and is innovative with the use of the plural first-person cinematic narrator, but that After Dark has more in common with Murakami’s two novellas that are only available in Japan—Pinball 1973 and Hear the Wind Sing—than with his short stories or his novels. It offers a lingering familiarity with likeable characters that lasts longer than his short fiction, but doesn’t offer the pleasure of fully immersing the reader inside the phantasmagoria of the story, as in longer books such as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
5:01 Discover on the back matter that this book was typeset in Caledonia. Think about how much I love Caledonia. Think about how much I hate Sans Serif.
5:02 Fix dinner.
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