suburban home in Japan, Eri Asai, a young model and college
student, is sleeping --- and has been doing so for two months. We
watch her sleep peacefully, yet inexplicably, in an almost empty
room in her parents' house.
Strange things then begin to happen: an unplugged television comes
on and the screen shows a solitary man in a bare room with a clear
mask over his face. He seems to be watching Eri as she sleeps. Can
he really see her? Is she dreaming about him? And what are we to
think when she disappears from her bedroom and is trapped in the
room on the TV screen?
As we ponder this puzzle, so too does Eri's younger sister. Unable
to sleep, Mari has fled the house to seek solitude in the night of
the city. What she finds is violence and compassion, art and work.
Her journey --- which brings her into contact with city dwellers
who are awake while most people are asleep --- may provide her with
both rest and peace.
AFTER DARK, the latest novel from Haruki Murakami, is stylistically
similar to his other many notable works (KAFKA ON THE SHORE, THE
WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE) --- a sort of Japanese magical realism and
lyricism verging on surrealism or fantasy.
During her night in the city, Mari first meets Tetsuya Takahashi, a
young musician who claims to have met her before when they were
brought together on a double date with Mari's sister and
Takahashi's friend. Mari and Takahashi subtly flirt over coffee
until he heads off to late-night band practice, leaving her alone
in the restaurant again. But soon after his departure, a woman
named Kaoru comes in looking for Mari. Kaoru runs a "love hotel,"
where a Chinese prostitute has just been beaten and robbed but
speaks no Japanese. She calls Takahashi for help, and he tells her
he just left Mari who, coincidentally, speaks Chinese. With this,
Mari is drawn into the world of the hotel and the lives of the
people who work and stay there.
While Mari moves through the night, we follow her and also return
back to her house to watch Eri in her sleep. As the story unfolds,
we are left to unravel the connection between the individual who
beat the prostitute and Eri. Is he the man in the bare room? By the
end of this short novel, Mari is safely back home and has plans to
leave Japan to study in China --- but her sister is still in a deep
sleep. Mari is undeniably altered, learning about herself and her
city and finding a new love for the sister from whom she has felt
emotionally estranged for so long.
AFTER DARK is delicate and engaging, despite some scenes that would
seem right at home in a David Lynch film. It is a mysterious and
odd novel about boundaries, both physical and emotional, and daring
to cross them. Think of this as an elegant Japanese version of the
1985 Martin Scorsese film After Hours, in which Griffin
Dunne found himself woefully out of his comfort zone when he stayed
up all night in Soho meeting a cast of strange and sometimes scary
characters. Feeling odd, sad and lonely, Mari also navigates the
night in a seedy unfamiliar neighborhood populated by interesting
AFTER DARK is another compelling and weird story from one of
Japan's most original writers. Though not a typical beach read, it
definitely should be on your summer reading list.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on December 22, 2010