Genre: Magical Realism
After Dark takes place during one night. Mari sits alone in a cafe, sipping coffee and reading her book when she is interrupted by a scruffy musician she knew briefly while still at school. This is one of a few strange encounters that night. Meanwhile, her sister Eri lies in bed in an almost perfect sleep…
If you have never read a Murakami before, you may not quite know what to expect. He writes books that are quite surreal and abstract – you cannot read it simply by turning the pages until you get to the end. Murakami is an experience – he does weird things to your brain – as one of the translators described his effect over at Murakami’s website. After Dark is like taking a shot of Murakami – it is condensed, short and sharp. If you have never read him before, this might be an ideal one to start with.
Reading Murakami, you have to take note of the ideas and the feelings he evokes, how it makes you feel and what it makes you think.
I read After Dark with two friends I know through Goodreads. I found it so much more enjoyable this way – reading their thoughts and interpretations of the book. I ended up reading a lot in front of my laptop and found myself looking up music mentioned in the book. In fact I ended up buying two albums – a Jazz anthology by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra and Blues-ette with Curtis Fuller which was specifically mentioned in the opening few pages of the book.
Five Spot After Dark is I presume where Murakami got his title from, if you’re interested you can listen to it now:
Before taking up his full-time career as an author Murakami ran a jazz cafe and music plays an important part in his writing. I had never actually done this before, but I definitely will be re-reading his books and have a play-list ready and planned. If you go to his website I believe there is already a play list for books like Kafka on the Shore for you to get hold of and read along to.
I found listening to jazz really helped in a way set the tone for reading After Dark and gave it that extra bit of texture. It also gave me an appreciation for a kind of music I’d never been interested in before.
As you can see from my fabulous five stars I really loved this book – in fact it is one of my favourite Murakami’s although reading some reviews people seem to think he’s lost his knack. Well, I disagree – although I haven’t read all of his books I suppose – but I still think it is a brilliantly written novella.
It took place during only one night and so it is much more a glimpse into these character’s worlds… a small glimpse into what goes on at night and it leaves you thinking, wondering, about what it all means – what’s going to happen to Mari and Eri? What happens next? I love that open endedness but I understand if some would find that unsatisfactory.
After Dark looks at the themes of light and dark, consciousness/unconsciousness – how we see ourselves and who we are. Are we the same during the night as we are during the night – or are we in some small way different?
Reading Murakami is a bit like reading a dream – the shifting sense of symbolism and metaphor leaves you forever questioning and ultimately makes some really good discussion because how you interpret something will be personal to you and there will be no definite answer.
So if you have yet to read Murakami – I recommend that you begin with this one and that you invest in the Blues-ette album by Curtis Fuller and one by Duke Ellington because it will enrich your reading experience. Even if you cannot read with music, then listen to it before you read. Every time Murakami mentions a cultural reference – to an artist for example, look it up because reading Murakami is a much more textured experience. It might not help you understand the story, but it might give you that little bit of extra detail and richness.