Look outside. Is it daytime? Yes? Then put down this book.
Murakami’s peacefully intense After Dark should only be read when it’s dark outside, or if you’re isolated from the rest of the world – else, the effect of this book is lost.
Personally, I read it on an early train. The sense of travelling from one place to another surrounded by strangers as the sun rose (somewhat) in time with the book added some much-needed atmosphere to my reading experience. The only thing that could beat it is reading After Dark in time with the events of the book, which are handily noted at the beginning of each chapter with a clock illustration.
A pre-warning for this book: if you’re looking for answers, this book won’t satisfy you. If you’re looking to be thrown into a mildly uncomfortable, philosophical ditch, then great! This book will most-likely-probably satisfy you.
There are three main narratives, and each seamlessly intertwines with the other; a prime example of artifice fiction. You have the tale of Mari Essai, and trombone playing Takahashi. You have Chinese Gangsters and Love Hos, with Kaoru and Shirakawa. You have Eri Assai and the Man with No Face. You have every variation between. After Dark is a culmination of a city’s worth of stories that take place across a single night. Are you willing to step foot into late-night Tokyo? A city that:
Between the time the last train leaves and the first train arrives, the place changes: it’s not the same as in daytime.Page 58.
There are some minor spoilers in the following sections.
There are many arguments for what point of view is taken in After Dark. Is it a ghost story? A psychedelic dream? Or, rather than a point of view – is it simply magic realism at its finest?
The broad answer is: it’s all of those things at once.
A closer look reveals that Mari’s image is still reflected in the mirror over the sink. The Mari in the mirror is looking from her side into this side. … But there is no one on this side.Page 67.
It could be argued Mari is sleeping, and the Other Mari is a fragment of that dream. It could, however, be seen that we, the reader, take the form of a ghost, thus why we are able to move at will through narratives, and even into different dimensions held in a television.
All we have to do is separate from the flesh, leafve all substance behind, and allow ourselves to become a conceptual point of view devoid of mass.Page 108.
Of course, all fiction is open to interpretation; After Dark is a prime example.
To explore the magic realism aspect, we’ll focus on that of Eri Assai. She resides in a seemingly normal bedroom, but “magical” things happen – and in conjunction with the rest of the happenings in the book – they seem almost normal. The television turns itself on. Eri Essai swaps with the room in the television. Shirakawa’s pencils appear in Eri Essai’s room. How? Why? Once again, Murakami only raises more questions than he resolves.
The surreal aspect of After Dark is only emphasised by the meta-fiction quality that Murakami ingeniously embeds into the narrative.
Murakami’s use of meta-fiction is powerful primarily in two ways:
Our viewpoint takes the form of a midair camera that can move freely about the room.Page 25.
Immediately, we are aware that we are separate and viewing Murakami’s world through a lens rather than being “present” in the room. Thus, the reader feels detached from the world, a contrast to the sense of belonging we typically experience when reading a good book. The sense of defamiliarization adds to the otherworldly feeling of the three intertwined narratives of night-time Tokyo. As put by Murakami:
We observe, but we do not intervene.Page 27.
At times, Murakami arguably hints that the characters know we are present such as in Chapter 6 – the following quote also interlaces Kaoru’s and Eri Essai’s narrative, through the mention of the camera.
The walls have ears – and digital cameras.Page 74.
Murakami is the director and you are the camera. You are only shown what you need to see – hence: every word of After Dark is valuable and engaging. You never want to skip a word – a key sign to a phenomenal read.
…our ever-alert camera circles to the back of the device and reveals that the television’s plug has been pulled.Page 28.
Often, the specific details just increase the reader’s confusion. For example, the fixation on time makes the reader anxious to know what it going to happen when the sun rises. The unplugged television confuses you as to how it turned on. The precise mention of ‘VERITECH’ on Shirakawa’s pencils and ‘VERITECH’ being on the pencils in Eri Essai’s room makes you wonder if they are the same pencils.
Each detail keeps you intrigued – makes you want to read more – to get the answers to your questions.
After spending a night with these characters, you begin to feel like they are real. You’re getting on the train with Mari Essai, you’re hunting down the business man with the Chinese Gangsters. You’re eating what feels like a billion meals with Takahashi.
You will feel fulfilled. Fulfilled from the connection you form with these characters. Fulfilled by your night in Tokyo.
You will feel unfulfilled. Unfulfilled from not knowing how these character’s stories end. Unfulfilled by all your unanswered questions.
But, most importantly, you will be happy.
You will be happy you read After Dark. I know it will stay with me forever.
By Isabel Tyldesley