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ENTRY

Haruki Murakami
October 5, 2011

Haruki Murakami is supposedly in the running for the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature (I don't think the award committee says who has been nominated). I'd like to see him win, although it doesn't seem likely (his odds are 8-1 according to UK bookies). I love his books and am looking forward to the upcoming English publication of 1Q84. Here is a review of one his books, After Dark.

After Dark contains many of the elements and themes common to Haruki Murakamiís other novels: a wise-beyond-her-years teenaged girl or young woman, a hip but dispossessed and introspective young man, cats, jazz, late-night diners serving omelets. Fans of his will relish the familiar elements like home-cooked meals of comfort food. What is different about this book from his others is that it lacks full coherence as a novel, reading more like several loosely connected short stories.

Murakamiís overriding theme explored in his novels is a search for place, in the physical sense of the word but mostly in an existential sense. His characters realize they have full responsibility for creating a meaning for their life. This realization frees them from societal expectations of career and family, and from mindlessly following rules and laws. However, it also drags them down, not only into non-traditional lifestyles, but also sets them into a circular kind of action-inaction response to events. Lacking a fully formed theory of their place they must consider and reconsider each action and its consequences in relative isolation. When his characters are forced to act, they are also forced into a place that provides them insights into themselves.

The main action of After Dark occurs during a single night, although there is much reminiscing about past occurrences that shape the characters present situations. The two main characters, Takahashi, the young man, and Mari, the teenaged girl, who previously met on a forgettable blind date, bump into one another in a restaurant. She is reading but mostly just passing time until morning, disliking being in her home at night. He is grabbing a quick bite and coffee before going to his bandís practice session.

They chat, mainly about Mariís older sister, Eri, a beautiful model who overshadows her sister but is now having personal problems. When they finally move onto other topics, they tell banal details of themselves: she speaks Chinese, he plays trombone. Takahashi and Mari seem to have little in common although there is a hint of some shared ambivalence toward life.

Not long after Takahashi leaves for band practice, a woman comes into the Dennyís and begs for Eriís help with a Chinese prostitute who was beaten severely at the love hotel she manages. The woman, Kaoru, an ex-professional wrestler, is a friend of Takahashi and when she asked him if he knew anyone who speaks Chinese, he told her about Eri.

These initial events set the plot in motion. In addition to the storylines of the two main characters, the threads include those of the abused Chinese woman who was forced into prostitution, the violent business man who beat the prostitute, Kaoruís life as a wrestler and hotel manager, Eriís sad existence which largely consists of sleeping, and a mysterious stranger who watches Eri sleep. Takahashi and Eri reunite before the night is over, with insight into themselves, not to mention the possibility of a budding romance.

After Dark is vintage Murakami, despite a weak coherence between the story threads. Of course as a short novel, it canít have the breadth and complexities of say The Windup Bird Chronicle, but it could have the impact and jewel-like quality of say South of the Border, West of the Sun. Still, After Dark is better than most novels Iíve read recently. Even more importantly for Murakami fans, itís a necessary fix.

COMMENTS

Number of comments: 2
click here to add a comment

Todd
And the winner is: Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer, congratulations!

Gail
I finally got a hold of a copy of 1Q84 at the library, and I am halfway through it (925 pages!). The reviews have been mixed, and I can see some things that need improving (tightening up), but in general I love the story and find it a compelling read. One of his best, for sure!

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