Saturday, August 13, 2011

After Dark – An Unusual Murakami

After Dark is unique as a Murakami novel because it is in the third person narrative. (“We” appears here and there, but it is a general “we,” a pure camera point of view.) This is noteworthy because Murakami as an author has a very strong ego, which often translates itself into a first-person protagonist, as found in many modernist novels. It can be argued that some characters, notably Mari and perhaps Takahashi, could be reflections of the author’s ego. Yet again, even they are very different from usual Murakami ego.

After Dark is riveting. In a very coherent and orderly manner, the narrative leads us into a night in the city of Tokyo, where human relations are non-existent or superficial. The art of fantasy and mystery is also well woven into the narrative, mostly around the quasi-metaphysical being of Eri. The phone calls from the Chinese Mafia, both of which connected to wrong people, also portray the theme in a subtle but entertaining manner. And the message itself – that you may forget but people will not forget what you did – also leaves a lingering sensation in relation with the theme of the novel.

Another noteworthy device used in the novel is gradually descending into layers of stories. At first, the relationship between Mari and Eri is binary and static. But it is soon revealed that the relationship is not that simple. Beyond expectable love-hate, the relationship between the two sisters reach the peak when Mari falls asleep in Alphaville, after which Eri is found asleep safe and sound back in her room after her troubled journey in the wonderland. The elevator episode and the final scene are rather repetitive in this sense, but also deliver a clear and effective summary of the relationship.

Despite its many merits, After Dark is another failure for Japanese literature in that it shows Murakami’s chronic problem of anachronism. Alienation, for sure, is the main theme of the narrative. But you can find a whole library of masterpieces with the same theme, all written about a hundred years ago. For example, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925, depicts the theme with impeccable craftsmanship. Even in Japan, the themes of modernism were incorporated into many wonderful masterpieces by authors such as Natsume Soseki, Kawabata Yasunari, and Mishima Yukio, who lived long before Murakami.

But again, evaluated on its own, After Dark is a well-written novel with grasping fun factors that make you want more and more as you read it. It is filled with interesting people and memorable scenes. And most of all, it lets you think – about life, and about the people you meet in the course of your life.

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