In the hands of this fiction master, After Dark is nighttime Tokyo reimagined as a surreal noir-ish dreamscape.
I was in one of my favorite bars in Jersey City talking to the bartender Tom about the new insomnia-themed sci-fi novel Black Moon (which is on my shortlist). After a quick tour of books — others and mine — he threw one title at me: After Dark, by Haruki Murakami. Tom said it was strange, offbeat and captivating.
So I tried it. Tom was right.
The best words to describe After Dark is The Twilight Zone. The classic TV series often featured stories, settings, and characters that weren’t outright sci-fi or horror, but were just off-kilter enough to not be truly of this world. That describes After Dark.
The novel is set in a not-so-safe district of Tokyo. The narrator brings us in with a swooping eagle-eye view of the city (pretty much literally). Murakami uses an interesting technique where the narrator is our guide. He is nearly a character himself, though one who is never named or described. Instead he is the all-knowing, all-seeing, and he lets us have a glimpse.
What exactly do we glimpse? A pair of protagonists in their late teens chatting in a Denny’s after midnight. Mari is a 19-year-old student who doesn’t want to go home. Takahashi is a jazz musician on his way to an all-night practice. Mari and Takahashi met months earlier when Takahashi’s friend went on a date with Mari’s beautiful sister Eri.
What we get is a lot of talk between the two — on life, loneliness, alienation. After Dark almost reads like a play. We don’t get much action, but it doesn’t matter. These two characters are compelling.
Once Takahashi leaves Mari the action picks up. Mari gets tangled up with the manager of a “love hotel” where a Chinese prostitute has been beaten. We get glimpses of the dark side of this city, and it’s fascinating.
Yes. That’s right. Trapped in a TV. The brilliance of Murakami is that he could write that and pull it off.
If you choose to read After Dark — and you should — don’t expect plot-twisting thrills. What you’ll get instead is a haunting story about young people on the edge.
(Two Girls image courtesy of www.innakomarovsky.com/blog)