Saturday, 11 April 2009

After Dark - Haruki Murakami

Read: June 2007

"It's not as if our lives are divided simply into light and dark. There's a shadowy middle ground. Recognising and understanding the shadows is what a healthy intelligence does. And to acquire a healthy intelligence takes a certain amount of time and effort."

2007 has been a good year for short novels. Ian McEwen returned to form with `On Chesil Beach,' his best work for years and I was desperately excited to get my hands on the long awaited return of Haruki Murakami with his latest novel, `After Dark'. After all, Murakami, like McEwan is one of the leading short story writers in the world and `Sputnik Sweetheart' remains his finest work to date.

The first thing to say is that this is a very short novel. At just 201 pages it took me barely 4 hours and I am not a fast reader. Some may say this is not value for money but does quantity really equal quality? This, like everything Murakami writes, is worth every penny you spend on it.

The story is that of Tokyo after darkness, when the sun goes down and the lights go on. It is the perfect setting for a Murakami novel: jazz records play leisurely in the background at late night bars, the streets are deserted and his usual ensemble of well meaning loaners in search of themselves have deep, revelatory conversations which unwind slowly over a cup of coffee and a cigarette. `After Dark' is like the distilled essence of everything Murakami has ever written.

Mari, a nineteen year old girl, is sitting alone in a coffee bar reading a thick novel and waiting for the night to pass. Takahashi is savouring his bands last all-night rehearsal before embarking on a career as a lawyer and has stopped in for some coffee. It is almost midnight. Back at home, Eri Asai (Mari's sister) has been asleep for two months, a sleeping beauty. As we watch the strange events of the dense night unfold it is as if the night has been personified, and the people are just encroaching on its time. Revelation and transition is in the air, it is `After Dark' and the possibilities are endless.

The atmosphere lurks somewhere between awake and asleep, we feel the neon signs lighting up the darkness and smell the hazy smoke of insomnia in the gaps between the words. Murakami is incapable of writing a dull story and `After Dark' is no different. It may not be his best work, but once you pick this book up and feel the darkness enshroud you like a blanket you will not dare put it down until the morning has arrived and there is nothing to do but wait for night to return.

7.5 out of 10

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