Haruki Murakami: アフターダーク (After Dark)
If you are looking for the same themes that Murakami has given us in his early books, you may be a bit disappointed. Some of it is familiar territory – writing in the style of a hard-boiled US detective novel, the loner (man and woman), strange things happening which are never really explained – but the mysterious quest we are used to does not happen. As the title implies, the story is set after dark, specifically between 11.56 p.m. one night and 6.52 a.m. the next morning. Not a great deal happens, though we do learn some of the slightly (but only slightly) mysterious background of the main characters.
The first character we meet is Mari Asai. She is nineteen and studying Chinese. She is a loner. She is sitting in a Denny’s, hardly eating her food and reading a book (we never learn what book, though it is large). She has no intention of going home, indeed cannot, as the last train has left. We later learn that she regularly stays away from home at night, primarily because her sister has been asleep for two months. She is joined by a law student her own age, Takahashi. He too is a loner and has also missed his train but he is here to play his trombone with some friends and can always get a ride home in his friend’s car. We later learn that his mother died when he was seven and his father was in prison and he was left to look after himself (albeit with help from family and friends) and now lives with his father and stepmother. He knows Mari, having met her when he and his friend went swimming with Mari and her sister, Eri. Eri is very beautiful, a model, and Takahashi was and is still attracted to her though, by the end of the novel, he has switched his interest to Mari.
The only real mystery concerns Eri. We first meet her asleep in bed. There is a television in her room, showing a man sitting in a chair, apparently watching her. During the course of the novel, she will move into the room in the television (the man is no longer there), wake up, try (unsuccessfully) to get out of the room and then return to her bed. Not only do we not know why, the author is at pains to tell us that he does not know why, either. We learn from Mari that Eri has been asleep for two months, though may have woken up to eat, go to the toilet and change her pyjamas.
One other key event occurs. A Chinese prostitute is beaten up and robbed of all her things, including her clothes, in a nearby love hotel (i.e. a hotel where lovers go for an hour or two). She does not speak Japanese. The manager knows Takahashi and he suggests Mari, who does help. The guilty party is identified by the hotel manager from the closed-circuit television and his picture passed to the Chinese gangsters who pimp the Chinese prostitute. We even meet the assailant, a computer tech, working late night, who is married.
Apart from Mari and Takahashi getting closer together and Mari getting to know the staff at the love hotel, not much else happens. Indeed, by Murakami’s usual standards, it is quite low-key. Of course, finding love for two loners amid the dark shady world of a Tokyo night is a key theme for Murakami and, while that is certainly fascinating, this will rate as one of Murakami’s lesser works.
First published by Kodansha, Tokyo in 2004 in Japanese
First English translation in 2007 by Harvill/Knopf