The International Writers Magazine: Review
After Dark by Haruki Murakami
Paperback, First Vintage International Edition, 244 pages
Published April 2008 by Vintage (first published 2004)
Sam North review
Ever read a book and realised a few paragraphs in that you have already read it? Sneaky publishers are always changing covers these days and somehow I thought I was buying a ‘new’ Murakami even though his new ones are in fact his very first novels before his breakthrough with 'A Wild Sheep Chase'.
After Dark is a curious book, I must have blanked it because it had no lasting impression, except I remembered it began in a Denny’s in Tokyo with a student, Mari Esai reading a textbook late into the night. She’s interrupted by a talkative trombonist, young Takahashi, who once had a thing for her beautiful sister, Eri and who complains you can never get crisp toast in Denny’s. (True)
At once the book is unnatural, the conversation far too animated and detailed to be realistic, but nevertheless a pleasure. Takahashi goes back to his all night jazz practice session and leaves Mari to herself, but again she is interrupted by a large, female ex-wrestler Kaoru, now night manager of a Love Hotel, Alphaville. She needs a Chinese speaker urgently and Takahashi has put her name forward to help. Mari wearily accompanies Kaoru to the hotel and meets a terrified young Chinese prostitute who has been beaten up, had all her clothes and money stolen by her john. It’s bloody, but Mari manages to calm the girl down and she’s later claimed by her pimp, who arrives on his motorcycle. We discover how Kaoru became the night manager and how she is determined to make the man who beat up the girl pay for his crime.
That’s pretty much it.
“In this world, there are things you can only do alone, and things you can only do with somebody else. It's important to combine the two in just the right amount.”
The rest of the night Mari tries to make the time pass. She’s reluctant to go home and Takahashi, in another break from the jazz, manages to tease out of her what’s distressing her. Her beautiful sister has been sleeping for two months now. Voluntarily went into a sporadic coma, though seems to wake to eat and defecate.
Yes it’s surreal. It’s Tokyo at night and it’s a completely different place to the day.
In a nearby neighbourhood, Shirakawa, works on the IT systems in his office, annoyed he hurt his hand beating the girl up. He 'does not look like the kind of man who would buy a Chinese prostitute in a love hotel—and certainly no one who would administer an unmerciful pounding to such a woman'. He feels nothing for her or what he did. He believes he will never be found, that’s the whole point of an anonymous Love Hotel.
At Mari’s home, Eri sleeps on, but a strange ethereal change is coming over her and someone is watching her from inside a TV, that is in fact not even connected to the wall. It this real or a dream? In fact, Eri’s dream? She wakes in her own bed in a room the other side of the TV. In analogue space no one can hear you scream…
Mari, it transpires is about to undergo a major change, leaving to study in China. Takahashi is suddenly interested in her, but she doubts it because he was always obsessed with her beautiful sister. Nevertheless there is a spark between them and she gives him her address in China...
After Dark is a fleeting few hours in a brief moment of a Tokyo night. It touches the lives of people all somehow damaged by events in their younger lives, all of whom intersect at Alphaville. It evokes the atmosphere of old Jean Luc Goddard sci-fi movie Alphaville, right down to the seedy hotel, flickering neon and element of paranoia. I remember seeing the movie and thinking how smart it was to make a film set in the future but clearly in the present (1960's Paris). A future where sex was available but emotion was taboo, like Hotel Alphaville in Tokyo at midnight where people can be beaten with no consequences.
It’s not an important book, I’m vaguely happy to have read it again, but hope I don’t fall for it again the next time they change the cover. But at least it is shorter than IQ84.
© Sam North October 2015
author Another Place to Die: Endtime Chronicles (Only read this new edition)