After Dark by Haruki Murakami

October 14, 2009

after dark Plot summary (with spoilers): Mari Asai is a smart, studious 19-year-old girl with a habit of staying up all night in Tokyo reading books in family restaurants such as Denny’s and Skylark. On one such night, she runs into Takahashi, a young man who insists that he knows Mari through her sister Eri. The two get to talking, and Takahashi reminds Mari of the previous encounter in fuller detail. He stays just for a short time before leaving for a practice session with his band.

Mari continues reading, but then is interrupted again, this time by a woman named Kaoru who said that Takahashi sent her. Kaoru needs the help of someone who can speak Chinese, and Takahashi mentioned that Mari was pretty fluent. So Mari follows Kaoru to Alphaville, a love hotel where a Chinese prostitute has been badly beaten and left naked in one of the rooms by a john who became enraged when the girl suddenly began menstruating. With Mari’s help Kaoru manages to get the girl safely away.

Later that same night Takahashi meets up with Mari again. They set to talking once more and discover that they have a lot in common and like each other a lot. Takahashi would like to pursue a relationship, but Mari is going to Beijing for a year on a study abroad program. Nevertheless, Takahashi asks for her address in China, saying that he will write her long letters and hold out until she comes back. Mari complies.

Along with the main Mari-Takahashi narrative, there are a couple of subplots. One involves the man who beat the Chinese prostitute, and the other involves Eri, who does nothing but sleep while a creepy person watches her.

Liked:

  • This was my first Murakami novel, so I didn’t know what to expect. I liked the basic setup of how we can meet interesting people and have great adventures after dark. The talking scenes inside Denny’s sure took me back to my high school and college days when my friends and I would head out for some much-needed food after a long drinking session… ah, the good old days!

Disliked:

  • The plot moves excruciatingly slowly in this book. It’s only about 250 pages long, but it felt like 500 because nothing ever happened. It’s pretty much all talk, which got to be boring after a while.
  • What was the point of the sleeping Eri scenes? If that’s supposed to be symbolic of something, I completely missed the point. Who was watching Eri? Why even bring that stuff up if there was no payoff/resolution?
  • Speaking of no payoff/resolution, the abusive john storyline went absolutely nowhere either. Again, I have to ask what was the point of describing his workplace, making it sound like perhaps he was the one watching over Eri, having the Chinese gangsters on the lookout for him… only to have our final vision of the man eating yogurt in the comfort of his own kitchen.

My Rating:

Lots of people positively rave about how great Haruki Murakami is, but I sure didn’t see any evidence of that genius in After Dark. The “plot” advanced too slowly, and neither the characters nor the dialogue were particularly interesting. The only reason I even bothered finishing this book was because it was so short, which is not saying much at all. I give it 2 stars out of 5.

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