Review: After Dark by Haruki Murakami

20 Books of Summer 2020: Book 3

This is the first Murakami I’ve read after hearing about his brilliance for years (and years). I thought After Dark would be a good place to start because it’s short. It either feels incomplete or just about perfect and I honestly can’t decide. I’m leaning towards “just about perfect” because of the way this book was so absorbing and fascinating and left me with the feeling that anything could happen (even though very few things did).

My first job was at an amusement park and we’d often go to Steak & Shake very late at night after work; we’d see the night-shift folks having lunch and an occasional early bird having coffee and eggs. There were no magic televisions, disobedient reflections—in short, nothing remotely close to After Dark, but the whole place had that in-between feeling that Murakami describes so well. Nothing immediately malicious, just a feeling that you should go straight home when you leave because you’ve overstayed your welcome for the day. After Dark nails that late-night feeling so perfectly that I found myself yawning at three in the afternoon, and not from boredom.

The first chapter introduces Mari at the Denny’s around midnight. The second introduces a sleeping Eri and is so eerie and other that I would have bought it if aliens showed up in chapter three. (They don’t.) Mari’s story is comparatively straightforward: She’s asked to translate at a “love hotel” when a young woman is beaten. Mari is gradually introduced to a cast of all-nighters and doesn’t seem to be in any particular danger even though the edges of her story bump up against seedier, more violent characters. Simultaneously, Mari’s sister is asleep in a room and there’s a weird bit that she’s in a room / there’s a faceless man / she’s in a television that is so dreamy and otherworldly that I was terrified while having no idea what was happening.

A lot of threads are left unresolved, but this doesn’t bother me because the events happen over a single night and, really, how much can happen in a single night? When the book ends, it feels like the story has been paused by the coming day. It’s not a cliffhanger per se; it’s like the rest of the story hasn’t happened yet. (This might be the weirdest thing I’ve said about a book, but it’s the only way I can describe it.)

Overall: 4.6 (out of 5.0) It feels a touch incomplete in places, but it’s a wonderful blend of very real and very surreal and I’ll definitely be reading more Murakami.

Image credit: Amazon

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