Murakami’s After Dark: I don’t think I like it…

July 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

Murakami's After Dark

Murakami’s After Dark

When I told itsnotnatalie that I didn’t like Murakami, she simply refused to accept it. Knowing that she holds Norwegian Wood in very high esteem, and knowing also that she knows me, I accepted a loan of her copy of After Dark. She thought that this short, eerie novel might be a better way to ease me into the joys of Murakami.

I tried so hard to enjoy and to appreciate After Dark. Really, itsnotnatalie, I did… but it just felt like a waste of a potentially good idea. The characters are drawn with surprising clarity and depth, and I wanted to know more about them. Murakami’s prose is enthralling, with its clean, cold crispness and swinging perspectives. But the very unfinished-ness of After Dark irritates me so very deeply that I can’t appreciate any of it.

There are certainly scenes worthy of skin-crawling, goosebump-inducing creepiness in After Dark. The masked man who watches over the comatose Eri, for example – he’s indescribably unsettling. The freakishly detached “salaryman” who assaults a nineteen-year-old Chinese prostitute is shocking. How could someone commit such atrocities with such ease and apparent unconcern?

Oddly, these were the parts of After Dark that I liked the most. The cold, clinical attitude toward violence reminded me of another Japanese novel I had read: Grotesque, by Natsuo Kirino (which I loved). I also found the way that the characters seemed to contemplate the ability to commit violence and atrocities to be fascinating.

Takahashi, a jazz musician and law student, establishes a suddenly intense friendship with Mari, Eri’s sister. He begins to tell her about why he chose to pursue law:

…there really was no world separating [the criminal’s] world from mine. Or if there was such a wall, it was probably a flimsy one made of papier-mache. The second I leaned on it, I’d probably fall right through and end up on the other side. Or maybe it’s that the other side has already managed to sneak its way inside of us, and we haven’t noticed.

This is pretty disturbing. Is Murakami suggesting that the capacity to assault and intent to murder lurks within everyone? If he isn’t, why did Takahashi focus on this so much? Takahashi is so concerned with this concept that he decides to give up music, his true passion, to follow a career in law. Perhaps he’s so worried about his own capacity to commit evil that he feels compelled to prevent others from doing so…?

Or maybe he’s not. Because it’s Murakami, and to attempt to interpret it would be to fail to understand it.

This book is a snapshot of one night. This is why there is minimal characterisation beyond in-the-moment observations. That’s why there’s no real plot, resolution or climax. Murakami works with the concept of magical-realism in such a way as to render any symbolism inscrutable, and toys with the reader’s expectations of narrative structure. I found that at the end of it, I was mildly interested in finding out what happened after the night in question, but didn’t really have any burning questions about it.

Overall, I felt about After Dark as I did about the other Murakami books I have read: I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but resented it once I finished it. Maybe this means that my reading tastes aren’t mature enough to appreciate the great Murakami, but for the moment – I kind of don’t get it, and I can’t work out if I like it.

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